Jesus is the Reason – A Christmas Reflection
Have we forgotten why we celebrate Christmas? A friend told me she got a card wishing her a very merry Winter Festival? Could you beat that! People tell me they have to search in shops for cards that portray the Nativity but there is no shortage of fir trees, snow, red robins and Victorian carriages. What are the so-called Christmas stamps celebrating?
In the early Christian centuries, there was little if any celebration of the birth of Jesus. The major feasts were Easter, celebrating the Resurrection, and Epiphany, celebration of the manifestation of Jesus as King (gold), Priest (incense) and Suffering Servant (myrrh). Just after the winter solstice, people celebrated the return of the Unconquered Sun. But, as often happens in pagan festivals, it had become a drunken orgy which usually ended up in violence. The Church authorities addressed this problem by selecting this time to celebrate the birthday of Jesus Christ, the light of God coming in human flesh. A few years ago, the renowned soprano Celine Byrne was asked on Lyric FM’s Marty- in- the-Morning why did Christmas mean so much to her. Her answer was marvellous. “The reason for the season is Jesus.”
The Christmas Crib
The popularization of the Christmas crib is attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi. His early biographers have left us vivid accounts of Christmas night at Greccio. His desire was “to bring to life the memory of that babe born in Bethlehem, to see as much as possible with my own bodily eyes the discomfort of his infant needs, now as he lay in a manger, and how, with an ox and an ass standing by, he was laid upon a bed of hay” (Thomas of Celano). On Christmas night, the friars and local people arrived with flowers and lights. His friend, John, had arranged a manger full of hay, an ox and a donkey. “All those present experienced a new and indescribable joy in the presence of the Christmas scene. The priest then solemnly celebrated the Eucharist over the manger, showing the bond between the incarnation of the Son of God and the Eucharist. The nativity scene was enacted and experienced by all who were present” (Thomas of Celano). Everyone went home full of joy.
The sublime humility and humble simplicity of the Eucharist
Connecting the crib with the celebration of the Eucharist was significant for Saint Francis. In one of the prayers he composed, he wrote, “O sublime humility! O humble sublimity! That the Lord of the universe, God and the Son of God so humbles himself for our salvation. He hides himself under the little form of bread!” To quote one of the prayers at Mass: “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.”
Get off your high horses
There is beautiful symbolism in the fact that to enter the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem one must crouch down to pass through a tiny door. Only children can enter the church unimpeded. A long time ago the great doors had to blocked up to stop the bandits who would ride in on horseback robbing the precious vessels and candelabra which adorned the church. The tiny door calls us to come off our high horses of self-sufficiency and to bend low. In the story of the original temptation, the father of lies promised Adam “you shall be like gods having the knowledge of good and evil”. When you disobey God you claim the right to moral autonomy, to make up your own rules, to claim your own rights above any responsibility. Adam took the bait, reached up for God’s authority and fell. Once he had known only what was good, but, as the tempter promised, he now knew evil also. He felt naked before God. Adam tried to climb up to God’s level but the Son of God as our Saviour came down to our level. We should not be surprised that Jesus said we have to become like little children to enter the kingdom of God. Discover the child who is divine. Discover also our lost innocence and our need of God.
The Saviour who can fix it
I like this story which I came across in a book by the late Cardinal Martini. He was a highly qualified scriptural scholar but well able to enter the world of stories for children. Imagine Jesus as a growing boy in Nazareth. One of his pals was celebrating his birthday. All the kids were expected to bring little presents. In those days most toys were made of wood, like little dolls, houses or trollies. A few days ago, a friend gave me a Rudolf, the red nosed reindeer, constructed from a fallen branch and a few twigs. Anyway, getting back to Nazareth. One of the boys spotted that Jesus arrived emptyhanded, so he challenged him.
“Jesus, you brought nothing”. Jesus replied, “Oh yes I did.”
“I can see nothing. What did you bring?”
“I can fix it”, Jesus replied.
“What do you mean, I can fix it?”
“In Daddy Joseph’s workshop people bring in all sorts of broken stuff and he is a genius at fixing things. I have watched him closely. So, if any of the toys you bring gets broken, then I can fix it.”
The name, Jesus, which was announced by an angel, means the one who saves … the one who can fix the life that is broken and needs healing.
This Jesus invites us to come to him with our problems and broken parts.
Come to me with your burdens and I will share the load with you.
Come with your sorrows and I will refresh you with my joy.
Come with your loneliness and I will be your friend.
Come to me with your guilt and I will give you my forgiveness.
May you experience the singing of the angels rendering glory to God:
the peace of God in your heart and mind,
the joy of the shepherds,
and the worship of the Magi.
Br Silvester O’Flynn OFM Cap.