Thursday, December 29, 2011
Blog # 216 Emmanuel
Blog # 216 Emmanuel "Keep Christ in Christmas!". "Jesus is the reason for the season!" I never remember hearing slogans like these when I was a boy. There was no doubt in any one's mind that Christmas was anything else than the birthday of Jesus. Slogans like that would have been like telling us Babe Ruth was a great baseball player. No one in our gang had any doubt about that. So it was with Jesus and Christmas. To say or think anything else would have been for me something like thinking we could have a cherry pie without cherries. Then through the years our American culture gradually moved away from an explicit awareness, appreciation, and public expression of religious values. Greeting cards offered for sale and sent in the mail in time for December 25th eliminated the word Christmas and expressed a desire for happy 'Holidays' instead. I saw the absence of Jesus in the public celebration of 'the Holidays' not only as an affront to Jesus but as a loss to us. I knew Jesus could not be absent from a real Christmas. I was concerned about the danger we would not be there. Beauty, music, and festive dance could produce real human joy. But nothing nor anyone could produce a real Christmas without the real Jesus. The Feast of Christmas was not celebrated in the first three centuries of the Church's history. Yet it was in these centuries when men and women joyfully laid down their lives after terrible torture rather than betray their love for Jesus. Of the four Gospel accounts of the life of Jesus only two, Matthew and Luke, give details of Jesus' birth in the stable with angels shepherds and the star. All four give the story of His death, What made Jesus so attractive to the early martyrs? I did not remember Jesus ever having said the hearts of all will be drawn to me if I lie in a manger, but rather "if I am lifted up I will draw all to myself." (Jn 12:32). John immediately adds: " (This statement indicated the sort of death He had to die)". Earlier in John (3: 14f), we have Jesus saying: "Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that all who believe may have eternal life in Him. And in John's Gospel the 'Christmas story' is given this way: In the beginning was the Word, the Word was in God's presence, and the Word was God...The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us." (Jn :1) Emmanuel. God Among Us. That is the story of Christmas. But the story does not end there. All that Jesus said and did is connected, just as all we do and say is connected. He was on His way from the day He was born to the day He died. We are the same. Is the most meaningful part of our journey the beginning or the end? The beginning is essential in order to have the end, certainly. But the end gives meaning to the beginning. Every part of the journey has its own meaning and is connected to the rest. Yet the end gives the full meaning to it all. Some familiar sayings of Jesus take on special value here. Jesus said very clearly there was nothing people could do that was more valuable than to love God above all and love one another as they love themselves. He would show us how this is to be done by perfect obedience to the Father's plan all throughout His life. (cf Jn.4:34; 5:30; 6:38). To be conceived and born was the Father's will for Jesus. To grow up in the home of Mary and Joseph, to teach and heal, and preach, to be hungry thirsty tired, to go fishing with Peter, to pray and to sleep were all the Father's will for Jesus. From all of this we could tell how He loved the Father. Jesus discovered and lived out in His daily experience what love really is. Then one day, reflecting on it all He said you cannot love anyone more than to lay down your life for someone. In death, and only in death, can we give it all. The Eternal Word of God exists from 'before' the beginning of all else. At Christmas the Eternal Word is born among us. "He will be called Jesus". God's love, God's 'giving' is unimaginably different than ours. Now, in Jesus, God's love is human as well as divine. In Jesus we can begin to understand God's love for us and our love for God. His whole life was to be an expression of His love. Though His obedience entailed self-denial, it was not about self-denial but about love. Each day He had more to give, the sunshine the stars friendships hunger joy and sleep. Gifts kept coming to Jesus from the Father, Each day the Father loved Jesus more, and He loved the Father more. Then Calvary came and He gave it all. "Father, into your hands...". That was His greatest love. 'You cannot love anybody more...". Then St. Paul, later on, would say to us: "Don't you know that we who were Baptized into Christ Jesus were Baptized into His death?" The challenge of Christmas is to believe "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" to show us how to love, and to invite us to join Him in loving God all our life, with all we have, all the way to the end.