Dec 25, 2014

The Nativity of the Lord MMXIV

Merry Christmas! A Child is born for us! There are many reasons to rejoice today. Most of us will spend time with family. Most of us will have presents to give and presents to open. Christmas is finally here. To rejoice in Christmas we should look at two things that we find in the name of this solemnity: Christ and Mass. Christmas is the Mass of Christ. We hear the slogan today to keep Christ in Christmas. The world has turned Christmas into something else than the celebration of the birth of our Savior. It is has forgotten that Christ is the reason we have this celebration at all. But it has equally forgotten to keep the Mass in Christmas.

Why is it important to keep Christ in Christmas? Christmas is about a Person and not just an event or a season. The invisible God is made manifest in visible flesh. Divinity is united to creation, not by intention, or will or power or from afar, but by the Person of the Eternal Word, in reality and nearness. God becomes one of us. Our society has forgotten this truth. Even when it is said, the world does not understand the meaning of it. This Child of Mary is God in the flesh. God is revealed to us in him. The world passes by this reality without a second thought. But this makes this Christmas much like the very first Christmas. How many were there in that time that would have recognized the Creator of the world when they looked upon this babe in a manger? The angels proclaimed him, shepherds adored him. But most of the world, on that night, just like tonight, will go about doing whatever it is that they normally do. For untold millions, this night is no different than any other. God has come into their midst, and hardly anyone knows. It is by the gift of faith that we share in the grace of so great a mystery.

God has taken up our frailty to himself. A dignity beyond anything else in the whole of creation is bestowed upon our frail humanity. God did not come as an angel but as a human. The gift he give to us is to know that what we are he became – out of his ineffable love for us, he lowers himself to share in our state. He gives to humanity his own Divinity. The prayers of the Church call this a holy exchange. What is it that we give to him? He takes from us mortal flesh. The God who is impassible becomes passible, that is, he fashions for himself the means by which the Crucifixion becomes a possibility. In return for the grace of sharing in his divinity, he asks only to share in our frailty and mortality. O holy exchange! A birth destined for a death – and resurrection. Keeping Christ in Christmas means remembering the reason for which Jesus was born. Christmas is something more than sentimentality, though there should be affection and tenderness when we put before our minds and hearts the scene of our Savior being born into the world. In Christmas the beginning of our redemption is made manifest. Jesus was born for the Cross, for his burial in the tomb, his resurrection from the dead and his glorious ascension into heaven. His flesh is our salvation. His human flesh and human soul are at the right hand of God in glory. Since he has a human nature like ours and his sacred humanity is in heaven, heaven becomes a possibility for each of us. We are invited to be born again in Christ and so to share eternal blessedness with him in heaven. Such a gift merits more than just this day. It deserves more than just sentiment.

How do we partake of the mystery of Christmas which is placed before us today through faith? By keeping the Mass in Christmas. When the deacon prepares the chalice at the altar he says, “By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” In this liturgical rite the Mystery of the Nativity is referenced in signs. The wine symbolizes the fullness of the gift of his divinity to us. The water, just a drop, symbolizes our humanity. At the consecration the host becomes his Sacred Body and the wine becomes his Precious Blood. These separate consecrations sacramentally, that is, mystically make really present the death of our Lord. During the sign of peace, the priest will take a small part of the host and place it in the chalice saying, “May this mingling of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ bring eternal life to us who receive it.” This liturgical ritual symbolizes the resurrection and ascension. How do we celebrate Christmas? By offering the Paschal Mystery: the death, resurrection and ascension in worship of our heavenly Father. We stand in awe of the love of God for us and offer back to him as our thanksgiving the Body and Blood of his Son. O wondrous exchange! We are given divinity in exchange for our humanity. In this Child is already present the mysteries of our redemption. His mysteries are ours. If we wish to profit from this marvelous exchange, nothing less than our life for his life is sufficient. Not on just one day, but every day of our lives. Not just Christmas but every day of the year. We must partake of his life with our life. To keep Christmas, it is necessary to keep it with the whole person: heart, mind, soul and body.

The Eternal Son of the Father gave himself completely to us. He didn’t leave aside some portion of his life for himself but gave us the whole of himself. In order to receive this gift in full, it is necessary to return a gift in kind: the whole of ourselves. Christianity is not something that we can do only on Christmas, or Easter, or even just on Sundays. Either our whole existence is grounded in this mystery of God in the flesh, or we are just fooling ourselves with our occasional religiosity. Christianity is not something that is merely thought. “I believe” is not properly translated as “I think.” Nor is Christianity something that is merely felt. The religious experience of feeling good is not the goal. Nor is Christianity something to be done. Christianity is not exhausted by being nice, or tolerant, or by charity and generosity. Christianity is received. Christianity is something done in us and for us, for when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son made of a woman, made under the law, that he might redeem those under the law, so that we might receive the adoption of sons. Christmas is kept by holding fast to Christ and to his Mass. All that is left is for us to accept it, or at least not to refuse it. Let us receive the Christ-child in our hearts, contemplating him with Mary, and allow his mysteries to be made manifest in our own life by his grace so that we are finally able to keep Christmas. Only then will the birth of our Savior have effect in our lives and the celebration of this mystery be kept in full.

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