27 December 2009

The Gift of Christmas

Christmas Day (C) – 25 December 2009

Readings: Is 52:7-10; Ps 98:1, 2-3, 3-4, 5-6; Heb 1:1-6; Jn 1:1-18 or 1:1-5, 9-14

After four weeks of advent, nine days of Misa de Aguinaldo, and last night’s noche Buena, Christmas is finally here, the most awaited time of the year.

The word Christmas originated as a compound meaning "Christ's Mass". It is derived from the Middle English Christemasse and Old English Cristes mæsse, a phrase first recorded in 1038. Its very etymology reveals the two most important elements of the celebration: “Christ” and attending “Mass”.

There are actually four sets of Masses for the Solemnity of the Lord’s Birth. The Vigil Mass & Midnight Mass on December 24, and the early Morning Mass and Mass during the Day on December 25. In the other three Masses, the Gospel passages are narratives centered on the birth of Jesus. However, for our Mass today, instead of a story, we get a theological assertion:

“In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God…” (Jn 1:1)

What is a word? A word is a jumble of meaningful letters, a symbolic representation of an idea. But this is no ordinary word we are talking about for it represents the very idea and essence of God. This Word creates, reveals, speaks through the prophets, becomes flesh, teaches, heals, forgives, calls to discipleship, sends to mission, suffers, dies and rises to new life.

Jesus as Word is the human symbol of the Father. The Preface for Christmas in the liturgy says:

“In Him we see our God made visible
and so are caught up in love of the God we cannot see.”

It is no wonder then that our Christmas celebration abounds with symbols: the nativity scene, Christmas tree, Santa Claus, parol, Simbang Gabi, and many other traditions that vary from country to country. All of them, even the most mundane and materialistic, signify in varying degrees the presence of God in the world. For such is the power of the Christ: he can turn even our imperfect thoughts and impure motivations into vehicles of the Good News.

1. Christ’s presence brings joy.

A couple of nights ago, police officers in Santa caps came to the evacuation centers and entertained the people there with song and dance numbers. There were also those who went to these centers bearing gifts and cheer. The local governments also went out of their way to help the evacuees celebrate noche buena.

This is the joy of Christmas, not a joy founded on the absence of loneliness, poverty, or fear – but one that is given us by God precisely because there is loneliness, poverty and fear. Jn 1: 5 says Jesus is “the light (that) shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it”.

Remember: the first Christmas was fraught with difficulties – Joseph and his pregnant wife were forced to go on a long journey, there was no room at the inn, they have to make do with a manger. But when Christ was born, an infectious joy spread in the heavens and on earth. Glad tidings were brought to the shepherds. The angels sang “Glory to God in the highest and peace to His people on earth!”

2. Christ’s presence brings transformation.

First a story… In 1914, during the darkest days of the First World War, in the Western Front, the British and the French soldiers were entrenched on one side and the Germans were on the other side. It was Christmas Eve and the weary soldiers thought they had enough of war and violence. They decided to hold a ceasefire, a Christmas truce.

The leaders of the French, British and German forces met in the center of the battlefield – while around them the bodies of the dead lay lying under cover of snow – and agreed upon their improvised rules for their improvised peace. Spontaneously, the soldiers from different camps started chanting: “No more war! No more war!”

It was Christmas, and after so many months of fighting, they felt a sudden rush of relief… and joy! They laid down their arms, buried their fallen comrades, then sang Christmas carols, exchanged gifts, and played football.

The scattered acts of friendship went on for several months till Easter. The superiors from the different sides didn’t like it. And the war still raged long after those incidents. But the memory of those brief breaks of joy was enough for the many survivors who were there to overcome the horrors of war and made their healing faster.

Christ’s presence this season transforms even the most jaded and bitter experience into a moment of triumph, a graced time to learn lessons in life.

The spiritual preparations of Advent and the Misas de Aguinaldo aim to transform us into a people ready and waiting for Christ’s coming. The call to repentance, the experience of light amidst darkness, the spirit of kindness and generosity all around – all of these seek to move us into becoming better Christians. The Tagalog carol says it for us: “…at magmula ngayon, kahit hindi Pasko ay magbigayan.”

3. A Christmas Prayer

To sum up our reflection, I would like to share this prayer written by Robert Louis Stevenson:

“Loving Father,
help us remember the birth of Jesus,
that we may share in the song of angels,
the gladness of the shepherds,
and the worship of the wise men.
Close the door of hate
and open the door of love all over the world.
Let kindness come with every gift
and good desires with every greeting.

Deliver us from evil
by the blessing which Christ brings,
and teach us to be merry with clean hearts.
May the Christmas morning
make us happy to be Thy children,
and the Christmas evening
bring us to our beds with grateful thoughts,
forgiving and forgiven, for Jesus' sake, Amen!"

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