This year, I would like to share with you some texts that are ripe for meditation on the birth of Christ. On Christmas morning, I took a video of the sunrise for your viewing pleasure, and I’ve put a bit of music in the background to keep it exciting.
Texts for Christmas meditation
Magnificat and antiphon from Christmas Evening Prayer I
Prologue from the Gospel of John (Christmas Day Gospel)
Luke 2:1-20 (Knox Translation)
Selection from Pope St. Leo’s Christmas Sermon (Office of Readings on Christmas Day)
Welcome to all of you reading this. Whether you are from Wichita or somewhere else, whether you are at Church every Sunday or find yourself only able to make it infrequently, welcome. Everybody belongs in Church on Christmas. Today we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, our Savior.
This year has shown us many things, but above all it has shown us that we need a Savior. Our world is full of things trying to kill us in body, soul, or both. This year we are acutely aware of our own mortality, our own weakness. I have thought often this year of the prophet Isaiah, who said, now the people that went about in darkness has seen a great light; for men abiding in a land where death overshadowed them, light has dawned. (9:2) If there were any doubt, Isaiah continues, For love of Sion I will no more be silent, for love of Jerusalem I will never rest, until he, the Just One, is revealed to her like the dawn, until he, her deliverer, shines out like a flame. […] No longer shall men call thee Forsaken […]; thou shall be called My Beloved, and thy land a Home, now the Lord takes delight in thee. (62:1,4)
For generation after generation, the Jewish people ponders the meaning of these prophecies. They expected a Messiah, a Christos, to save them from the imperial powers that continually ruled over them. What they received was so much more. Not just any savior would do. Only God himself, the Divine Word who was with God and who was God (cf. John 1:1), the Only Son of the Father, the one through whom all things came into being (1:3), the one in whom there was life (1:4) was capable and worthy of the task of redeeming his creatures, and that life came into the world and was the light of men (ibid.). And the Word was made flesh, and came to dwell among us; and we had sight of his glory, glory such as belongs to the Father’s only begotten Son, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
On Christmas Day, the eternal made himself subject to time. The almighty became powerless. The source of life put on mortality. The creator of all was born of his own creation. God, while not ceasing to be God, was born of a virgin and became man. St. Augustine wrote, “He was God from the Father, and man from the mother. […] From the Father He is the beginning of life, and from the mother he is the end of death. From the Father He ordains every day, and from the mother He consecrates this day.”1
God entered into this world not as the people expected, but as a helpless child, Jesus, the Christ the Emmanuel. He teaches us that forgiveness, not vengeance, is the way to true freedom. He teaches us not to fear death, because he will conquer it. The only thing worth fearing is that which can kill the soul. This event of his birth established his presence here on earth; his presence has never departed from us. We experience it through his Church, his Sacraments, and his presence in his baptized people.
Our Savior has come forth from the darkness to bring light into our lives and to be present in our lives. “The presence of Christ involves the beat of our heart: being moved by his presence turns into being moved in our lives. Nothing is useless; nothing is extraneous. We start to have an affection for everything, everything, and the magnificent consequences of this are respect for what you do, precision in what you do, loyalty to your concrete work and tenacity in persevering to the end; you become tireless.”2 This Christmas, let us begin to remember the presence of Christ in our hearts, so that his light and power might shine out through us to all the world. All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God. (Psalm 98:3c) May they see it through us.
Even in this time of fear, anxiety, and doubt—especially now—we must celebrate this day. This day is our feast of victory. This is the day when God’s light erupted back into the world. This is the day we remember that God has claimed us for himself. If we remember that kinship, then we must also remember, as John told us in his first letter, “[t]hat God is light, and no darkness can find any place in him; if we claim fellowship with him, when all the while we live and move in darkness, it is a lie; our whole life is an untruth. God dwells in light; if we too live and move in light, there is fellowship between us, and the blood of his Son Jesus Christ washes us clean from all sin. Sin is with us; if we deny that, we are cheating ourselves; it means that truth does not dwell in us. No, it is when we confess our sins that he forgives us our sins, ever true to his word, ever dealing right with us, and all our wrong-doing is purged away.” (1 John 1:5-9 Knox)
This imagery of light and dark is extremely timely, because with it comes the recognition that God is life-giving light and sin is death-dealing darkness. Unlike nearly any other challenge that we—and by “we” I mean the entirety of humanity—have faced in the last 100 years, we aren’t exactly sure what to do next. We do not really know what to do, and we are, frankly, quite helpless. In our current situation, there is a darkness to the future to which we are not accustomed. Even two months ago, this darkness was not there. But in this new-found darkness, we can now see something that has been there all along, something that has always been there, something that we were, perhaps, too distracted by the things of this world to notice before. Amidst all the darkness, there is a light. This “light shines in the darkness, a darkness which [is] not able to master it.” (John 1:5 Knox)
This light is Jesus Christ, and today that light shines more brightly than ever, as we celebrate the Resurrection. Today is a day of rejoicing, because today we celebrate the success of Christ’s conquest of sin and death, where he conquered their effects in eternity. Today we celebrate the fact that Jesus showed us that death is not an end but a beginning. He took on the most frightening aspect of our humanity, death, and showed it impotent against him. Jesus, the Divine Word Become Flesh, is master over life itself, and he is too full of life for death to overcome him. He has extended to us an invitation to share in his life, his life which is too strong for death. This is our Easter faith: that by uniting ourselves with the life of Christ, we are no longer subject to the tyranny of death.
This light through the darkness shows us the path to uniting ourselves with Christ. It illuminates our sins and our faults, not to shame us, but so that we might recognize and overcome them. This light has shown us that we humans are not the masters of nature that we may have thought. Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher to the Papal Household, made this point on Good Friday, “The pandemic of the Coronavirus has abruptly roused us from the greatest danger individuals and humanity have always been susceptible to: the delusion of omnipotence.” 1 Painful as this recognition may be, the light has shone through the darkness and shown us the pride of modern humanity. By recognizing the true Lord of creation and returning to him, we can be assured that no matter what happens, we are on stable ground.
The light does not show us only the bad. It has also shown us something quite incredible: our human need to be in solidarity with one another. In this time of pandemic, where we are forced to be separate, we have not remained content to be isolated. People are constantly reaching out to check on their neighbors. Communication through phone and video chat is exploding. Through this pandemic, we have recognized something critical: we are all in this together. The light has shown us that our solidarity must go even deeper, because the true pandemic we face is much more insidious that a few nasty bits of RNA and protein. A virus, a non-living and material thing, can cause death to our bodies. We daily confront a much deadlier enemy: sin. Sin can cause death to our souls. This death is far worse, because it lasts for all eternity unless we repent and turn back to Christ. This primordial plague of sin is what Christ came to cure. Sin is the disease which grows from the leaven of malice and wickedness that St. Paul warns us about. (See 1 Corinthians 5:8) Our solidarity with our brothers and sisters cannot stop with fighting the Coronavirus: it must continue as we fight to eradicate the deadliest plague, the plague of sin. God’s strange mercy has brought darkness so that the light might shine more clearly. (cf. Psalm 49:21; Psalm 136)
God’s strange mercy has shone a light on the world which we cannot ignore. We must now invite the Lord to shine that same light into the depths of our hearts. We must allow him to break our hearts of stone and to give us new hearts and to fill us with his Spirit (see Ezekiel 36:26-27). We must allow him to put within our hearts the leaven “of sincerity and truth.” (1 Corinthians 5:8) This requires admitting that we are not always right, and that God’s ways are not our ways. But that is exactly what we celebrate: that God’s ways are not our ways. Our ways led to Adam and Eve turning away from God, hiding themselves, and separating all of humanity from God. Our ways led to the slavery of the Israelites in Egypt, to the pains of exile in Babylon, and to the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ, our Lord and God. God’s ways, though, showed that from the very beginning he worked to bring humanity back to himself, and that humanity could never hide from the one who loves them so much. God’s ways brought his wandering children out of Egypt, now unified as a nation. God’s ways brought Israel home from exile, purified and united in their faith. God’s ways conquered death and showed us that death is much too weak to contain him. God’s ways not only showed us that sin and death are ultimately powerless, but that each of us is called to eternal life.
Today, we celebrate that God’s ways are not our ways. We celebrate his light coming into the world and showing us the way to truth. Let us praise God for his great gift to us. Let us thank him for strange mercy that we do not fully understand. Let us ask him every day to bring us closer to him, so that we may follow him, and imitate him, and shake free the shackles of sin.
On Easter Sunday, the Apostles would never take their Lord’s Presence for granted again. They would never deny God’s power again. The Apostles recognized that life would never be the same again. Let us allow the light of Christ into our lives, so that we, too, will never be the same.
Today’s Readings: April 12, 2020 Easter Sunday, Year A Acts 10:34a, 37-43; Psalm 118; 1 Corinthians 5:6b-8; Victimae Paschali Laudes (Sequence); John 20:1-9