Dec 24, 2013

A Child is born for us

(Vatican City)
Mass at Night:

Readings, Mass at Day:
The Word made flesh and dwelt among us

Is 9:1-6
Ti 2:11-14
Lk 2:1-14

Our charismatic Holy Father Pope Francis, in his recent Apostolic Exhortation entitled, The Joy of the Gospel, on the first page writes these words: “I invite all Christians everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since ‘no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord.’”

Can you think of a more compelling summation of the entire Christmas story?  While shepherds, singing angels, a poor and humble couple in search of a place for the wife to give birth, the later arrival of Magi bearing gifts, and a shining star in the night sky all are the most familiar and beloved part of Christmas each year, the words of invitation spoken by Pope Francis have rung down through the centuries since Jesus was born.

It strikes me that it is as if God the Father is saying to the entire world: “I invite all, everywhere, to a renewed personal encounter with my Son, Jesus. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her since no one is excluded from the joy brought by Him.”

The symbolic nature of Bethlehem, the humble surroundings of Jesus’ birth, the pagan Roman emperor Caesar Augustus who was proclaimed as the son of a god, the shepherds and Gentile Magi from the east are all representative of God’s intervention in human history in a way that invites each of us to embrace the Gospel of mercy, humility, respect, equality, and conversion.

The birth of Jesus, more than 2,000 years ago is not a story for the faint of heart.  We may perceive it as gentle and pretty, and indeed it is, but the full story calls us to understand how much we are loved by God, how sacred each human person truly is, and that, as Pope Francis states, “a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ” means that I may need to let go of a “me” centered way of life and turn to an “other” centered life. In the end, it is an invitation. God does not coerce any of us but only proposes and invites.

Early Christianity was up against more than we are in a sense.  Christianity was a new thing all together.  It placed those early believers in opposition to the prevailing pagan culture, the obligation for every Roman citizen to pay tribute to the emperor, who himself was proclaimed as divine. (Divine of course until he died or was murdered or poisoned.)

Each year, the emperor insisted that his birthday be celebrated throughout the empire. In response, Christians celebrated the birthday of the one they proclaimed to be greater than Caesar. 

Each year Roman powers proclaimed that the sun god be worshiped at the end of the year.  They noticed that, as we call it the winter solstice, the sun light was gradually increasing so a celebration of gratitude was in order.  The Christians decided that this would be the day when they would recall the birth of the true light of the world; not the sun god but the Son of the true God. Centuries beyond those early decades have seen numerous rocky roads and challenges to the Christmas celebrations but in the end, it remains a memory which time and again conquers over obstacles.

And so, we stand in this long line of history when Christians for two millennia have marked the birth of salvation in the person of Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, who entered our world in silence but anoints us with water, Spirit and fire. Like any new born child in a home – it’s all about the child.

May this child, now the risen victorious Savior, give us the courage we need, the hope we long for, and a faith to move mountains if necessary.  There is no greater encounter, an invitation for that matter, than our celebration of the Holy Eucharist.  Every time we consume him under the signs of bread and wine, he welcomes us to a personal encounter with himself – to conversion of heart and lifestyle according to his Gospel. 

Like Mary, we are called to live for him. Peace in 2014.
Grant, we pray, almighty God,
that, as we are bathed in the new radiance of your,
incarnate Word,
the light of faith, which illumines our minds,
may also shine through our deeds.
(Christmas Mass at Dawn)