December 25, 2010
The parish has a new priest. Every afternoon, he went around, trying to meet as many parishioners as he could. He knocked on the door of one home. No one answered, but he knew someone was inside because he heard the TV and some movements inside. He knocked harder and longer, but to no avail. Finally, he decided to leave a business card, wrote a Bible verse on it and placed it in front of the door.
Minutes after the priest left, the lady in the house opened the door. She saw the card with the priest’s name and the Bible verse: Revelation 3:20. She opened her Bible and it said: “Behold, I am standing at the door, knocking…if anyone opens the door, I will come in and we will have a meal together.”
That Sunday morning the priest saw his business card in the collection basket. He saw that the verse he wrote on it was crossed out and in its place was Genesis 3:10. The priest looked it up in his Bible. These were words uttered by Eve in Paradise: “I heard you in the garden but I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid myself.” (Adapted from “Rediscovering Catholicism”, by M. Kelly).
Christmas is all about God coming into our world, knocking at the door of our hearts. He wants in. So He became man just like us so that He can be Emmanuel – God with us. But He wants further in – that is, inside our hearts. This is precisely the reason why He chose to be born as an infant in the manger. A newborn baby cannot fail to elicit the strongest emotions in us. But a newborn baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger on a cold winter night will surely move anyone’s heart to its limits. That is what Christmas is all about – God, knocking at the door, seeking to enter our hearts to fill us with love, peace and joy.
Until now, there are many people who cannot accept the image of God as man, and more so as a baby, so vulnerable and powerless. How can that be God? Yet God’s wisdom, though beyond human understanding, cannot be denied. By experience, we know that the baby, no matter how small and weak, wields so much power. This is described beautifully in the words of Fr. Ron Rolheiser, OMI: “The power of God revealed in Christmas is the power of a baby, nothing more, nothing less: innocence, gentleness, helplessness, a vulnerability that can soften hearts, invite in, have us hush our voices, teach us patience, and call forth what’s best in us…. The power of Christmas is like the power of a baby.”
When there is a baby in the house, the whole atmosphere changes. All eyes are fixed on him. When the baby cries, everybody rushes to attend to him. He has the power to pull his mother or father out of bed at night. When he sleeps, he hushes to silence the people around him. And when he smiles, he has the power to calm down anxious nerves, to soothe tired limbs and to heal and gladden aching hearts.
Such is the power of a baby – it is the power of innocent and pure love. This is what we celebrate every Christmas: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son.” We rejoice and celebrate because, unworthy though we are, God gave us His greatest Gift ever – His only-begotten Son. He was born as a baby to draw us to Him, not in force or fear, but in love and humble affection. And He sets Himself as a model for us to follow: “Unless you become like little children, you cannot enter the Kingdom of God.”
Unfortunately, this is what the world is visibly losing – the awareness of love and the value of generous self-giving. The world is in disarray. Due to our selfish ambitions and unbridled greed, families are torn apart, babies are killed, marriages are destroyed, and social institutions are pushed to the abyss of moral bankruptcy. No wonder, many people avoid the greeting “Merry Christmas”, and instead say “Happy Holidays”, not only to be politically correct, but probably also because they are not willing to embrace the Gospel values of love, self-giving and sacrifice that Christmas seeks to remind us of. These values are the antidotes to the culture of death that has prevailed over the world today.
Pope Benedict XVI said: “In the night of the world, we must let ourselves be amazed and illumined by this act of God, which is totally unexpected: God becomes a Child. The Word-become-a-child helps us to understand God’s way of acting, so that we will be capable of allowing ourselves to be transformed increasingly by his goodness and his infinite mercy.”
Now, more than ever, we need to proclaim more boldly and clearly the message of Christmas. It is our mission as Christians. After all, the word Christmas comes from the words “Christ” and “Mass”, and the word “Mass” comes from the Latin “Missa”, derived from the past participle “missi” (I have sent). Hence, we have the word “mission.” Christmas, therefore, reminds us of Christ’s mission to spread love, peace and joy in a world darkened by egoism, violence and misery. That is also our mission as followers of Christ.
Hence, coming to Mass on Christmas is truly essential. In the Mass, we encounter Jesus, the Baby lying in the manger. This is what St. John Chrysostom said: “Let each of us leave his house empty so that we may see our Master wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger… The table of this altar takes the place of the manger. And surely the Master’s body will be lying on this altar… If we approach with faith, we too will see Jesus, for the Eucharistic table takes the place of the crib. Here the Body of the Lord is present, wrapped not only in swaddling clothes but in the rays of the Holy Spirit”.
As we greet each other “Merry Christmas”, let us not forget to greet our Lord Jesus “Happy Birthday”, for he is born, not only in Bethlehem, but also on this altar of the Eucharist and in the innermost core of our hearts.
Fr. Mike Lagrimas
St. Teresa Church
141 Henry Street
New York, NY 10002