CHRISTMAS (MASS AT DAWN)
Is 62:ll -12 Tit 3:4 – 7 Lk 2:15-20..Christmas Past, Present, and Future
The essence of the “straight man”, in ﬁlm or on stage is that he gives. He gives the best lines, the stage, the spotlight. Carl Reiner did that to coax the hilarity out of Sid Caesar on Your Show of Shows. Dean Martin possessed that rare straight comic gift as Jerry Lewis’s partner.
Then she turned to George and asked, “Who was that?”
George: “You don’t know?”
Gracie: “No. My mother told me never to talk to strangers.”
George: “That makes sense.”
The world from which we come tells us that at Christmas we’re expected to give gifts and to receive them, leaving open the question of whether it’s better to give than receive. In show business, by giving the straight man creates the show. And he gets by giving.
So it is with us and God, especially with regard to attendance at Sunday Mass. We’re God’s straight men, and we get by giving. We give our presence every Sunday, even though we take a risk that the homily won’t be any good, we’d rather sleep, and we don’t want to be bothered with the crowd who go to our church.
With apologies to Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol, I expect that we’re here to commemorate Christmas past, Christmas present, and Christmas future.
Christmas past tells us, as our Responsorial Psalm reminds, that Jesus came to be people’s light and to give that light to everyone who comes into the world. Just fantasize about that for a moment! A beam of light travelling at the rate of 186,000 miles per second (which is the way God created it) in less than two seconds passes the moon; in eight minutes it reaches the sun; in six hours, it leaves our solar system; in four light-years it touches the nearest star; in 32 thousand light-years it breaks free of this galaxy; in 170,000 light – years it arrives at the next nearest galaxy. In view of the fact that there are millions of galaxies, one canvsee that the Creator of the universe is indescribably awesome.
Why, then, did the Creator of the universe choose, in that ﬁrst Christmas past, to come in the way He did: in a smelly, cold stable in a little town, in an out-of-the-way country, appearing ﬁrst to insigniﬁcant people? I would suggest that it was to teach many lessons for which we need not a far-off, majestic, awesome God, but Emmanuel, God- with-us. Among those lessons are humility for everyone in our world who subscribes to the popular idea of being his own king or her own queen. As our Gospel reminds, there’s the lesson from Mary of being attentive to God’s word and pondering it in our hearts. For all time, when people look upon work as a chore to be avoided, the worker’s son and his foster-father teach us to work diligently. He who grew from this place in wisdom, age, and grace before God and people, teaches us to grow in all things ’toward him, our head.
There are many other lessons from Christmas past. Jesus comes in a lowly estate — in the form of a poor man born of a simple maiden — so that he might gently attract and bring humankind to salvation. If he had been born amid the splendour of a rich family, people could have said that the face of the world had been changed, once again, by the power of wealth. If he had chosen to be born in Rome, then the greatest of cities, they would have ascribed the same change to the power of her citizens. If he had been the son of an emperor, many would have been afraid to approach and would have pointed to the advantage of authority. If his father had been a legislator, their cry would have been, “See what can be brought about by the law.”
As God arranged it, though, it was the Godhead alone that transformed the world. The lack of the necessities of life was the best way of proclaiming the will of God. As he lay in the manger surrounded by poverty, the divine Word, the son of God, drew to himself both rich and poor, the eloquent and the inarticulate, the powerful and the‘ powerless — all who would accept his invitation. Motivating it all is the lesson of God’s unfathomable love for us.
Contemplating the lessons of Christmas present, we see around us a great deal of confusion about the feast’s meaning. Up to about a hundred and ﬁfty years ago, where reformers and nonconformists held sway Christmas wasn’t permitted to be celebrated more than any other day. They wanted to do away with anything that derogated from the purity of the Gospels. And they wanted to get away from anything that in any way smacked of “papists” (Roman Catholics).
From that time to our own, Christmas has gradually taken on the character of a grand commercial bazaar. The confusion of today was aptly put by a little Catholic-school girl, who said, “I’ve been taught in school that the meaning of Christmas is giving, but when I see the store windows and watch TV I can’t help thinking of all the stuff I’ll be getting.”
The lessons of the Scripture readings of today’s Mass are no less true today than when they were written. From Isaiah we learn that the new Israel, the Christian community, is the recipient of God’s Good News. The letter to Titus rejoices in the sheer undeservedness of our salvation, made available to us when the grace of God was made visible in Jesus Christ. And the Gospel of this Mass has all the essential elements of what we celebrate today.
For the lessons of Christmas future, let’s remember one essential difference about time between God and us. For us, time is always horizontal: our watches tell us that one minute follows the previous one and precedes the following one; our calendars tell us that one day follows another, and each month does the same. For God, however, time is vertical: that is to say, there are no minutes, no days; all time is always present to Him. That means that the Christmas that took place two thousand years ago is still with Him, as much as the Christmas of today and the Christmas of next year or a thousand years from now.
That means, moreover, that every act we do to bring God’s light further into the world is another small Christmas. And the way God’s light comes into the world today is through us. A missidner in Japan tells the story of being called to minister to a Catholic lady who lay dying at her home. Her son, a medical doctor, although not a Christian, always greeted him respectfully when he brought the Eucharist to his dying mother and eventually anointed her, but was always formal and distant.
A few months after the death of his mother, the physician appeared on the missioner’s doorstep. After an exchange of social amenities, he came to explain that he wanted to go to confession. He had heard his mother speak of the inner peace she had experienced in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and had seen that for himself, and he wanted to try it for himself. There were things weighing heavily on his mind. The priest called down God’s blessing on him; evidencing peace, be thanked the priest and left. Six months later, the doctor took instructions and was happily baptized. His mother had brought him the light of the world. And, in a country where only 0.3% of the people are Catholic, where conformity is cultivated and where individuality isn’t admired, the doctor himself thereafter provided the light of the world, too, to all around him.
Every time we do a good deed, in God’s sight we’re creating some of the joy that Jesus came to bring. Every time we go to church when we don’t feel like it, we are giving rather than getting and adding to the world’s welfare. Every time we act as peacemakers, every time we go against the grain to help another, every time we try to be understanding, every time we meditate on the spiritual life, God sees us as continuing the delight that we robustly celebrate today. Even though God created light to travel at 186,000 miles per second, for the travelling of His special light He has chosen to have us bring it — a slower process, of course, but blessing both the one who brings His light as well as the one who receives it.
Remembering the enchantment of Christmas past, the joy of Christmas present, and the attractiveness of Christmas future, may you have a Merry Christmas, may its bliss be with you into the new year and always, may you remember how to achieve it, and may you bring some of His divine light into the world.