In last week’s edition of the Catholic News, I offered the readers of my column five criteria for pre-Christmas self-examination regarding whether we truly appreciate our faith or whether we are in fact beginning to drift from the Faith.
The answers to the self examination will have much to say about how we celebrate Christmas. As people read this Christmas reflection, I want them to remember and use the five criteria as a context for celebrating Christmas 2008.
The social context
The world of 2008 is filled with so much evil that we can almost forget about the presence of grace, hope and holiness. There is so much evil along with its consequent fear that we are almost overwhelmed. The operative word is “Almost”! Christmas brings us back to the beginning and reenergises our hope. Christmas makes it impossible to forget about grace, hope and holiness. Christmas puts evil and fear in perspective. Christmas offers an alternative way of life to believers and to the world.
It is the responsibility of the Church each year to proclaim the wonder of Christmas and to tell the people the truth – God has become one of us. There is now a powerful light to challenge the darkness. At Christmas, the Church must remind all people that grace and holiness, love and meaning are within us and all around us.
We must gather together the people who accept Christmas and work collaboratively to build community on the values of Jesus. This mission is important not only because of so much evil, but because there are so many people who are searching for God and meaning in their lives.
The Meaning of Christmas
What does Christmas really mean? It means that God has kept his word. The preaching of the prophets was correct. The Messiah has come! It means that the yearning of God’s people has been satisfied.
The fundamental incompleteness of the human person and the loneliness within the human person has been healed by Christ. It means that God and his people will never be separated again unless man chooses to sin. It means things will never be the same again. Now there is a world of light and a world of darkness. We cannot have it both ways. We must make a choice.
What does Christmas ask of us? Christmas asks that we listen attentively and reflectively to the truth that God became one of us. It asks that we accept the invitation to live in relationship with God all the days of our lives.
Christmas asks that we allow our relationship with God to deepen so it becomes the fundamental relationship in our lives. It asks that we understand the meaning of love and honestly discern the presence of selfishness in our lives which is the enemy of love. It asks that we shape our lives by the values of Jesus.
The readings of the Christmas liturgy are helpful in reflecting on the meaning of Christmas. The first reading is an image of hope. The promised Messiah would be a source of light. We can appreciate the absence of light because periodically we lose light. When that happens, what do we do?
We immediately light candles and we use flashlights. Why? So we can see where we are going, to help protect us from danger. We understand how much evil loves darkness.
The reading tells us that the predicted source of light will create a new world order of justice, love and peace. These values must take on flesh. When these values are visible, the kingdom is present. When they are absent, the presence of the kingdom is more difficult to discern.
Light is a biblical image of truth. For us to be a people of light we must allow the truth to live in our hearts so we can bring God’s truth to the various and ever-changing historical situations.
To fulfill that responsibility requires adult formation, it means keeping our parish alive, it means openness to serving on the Councils, Commission and Secretariats of the Archdiocese, the Parish Councils of the Archdiocese and being willing participants for the parish Assemblies called for by the Synod.
The reading from Paul is doctrinal and moral. He begins to analyse the meaning of the appearance of Jesus. Paul uses an interesting verb as he describes the ministry of Jesus. He says Jesus “offers” salvation to those who will respond to the light he has brought: his truth, his understanding of justice and his wisdom for living.
He never imposes salvation and he cannot reach those who misuse their freedom. For Paul, Christmas is serious business. We must connect the message of Christmas to our lives, have our spirituality doctrinally rooted and have our behaviour reflect our faith.
The gospel stresses three points about the birth of Jesus:
1) Jesus is from the Davidic line and is the fulfilment of the ancient prophecies concerning the ideal Messianic King. The point is that we can trust God’s word. However, patience may be necessary because God’s timetable may not be the same as our timetable.
2) There is a double tradition in the scriptures about Shepherds:
2.1) They are rulers. The patriarchs were all shepherds as was David.
2.2) They are the destitute and are in need.
The point is that Jesus came for all classes of people.
3) On whom his favour rests – people of good will. These words stress more the goodness of God rather than the dispositions of people. Yet we must remember from Paul that believers must be eager to discern God’s Will and then implement it with generous perseverance.
When you join this Christmas reflection to the five criteria for discernment that I recommended in last week’s column, the spirituality of Christmas and the spirituality of appreciating all aspects of our faith come together.
My prayer for the archdiocese and the nation for a blessed and peaceful Christmas is rooted in the images of God’s Word. May those images bring meaning to your life and joy to your hearts.