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Pastor's Letter 20191225 - 25 December 2019 - Christmas Day


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25 December 2019

A Message from Father † Michael

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Today’s Theme:

“For Unto Us a Son is Given”

The Incarnation

Our faith teaches that God sent His only-begotten Son to earth in the form of a Man. This was accomplished by the will of God in an act called the “Incarnation,” in which the body, soul and divinity of God, Himself, became like one of us—a human being. Taking on our human nature He conferred upon us the dignity of children of God. The mystery of the Incarnation is a mystery of love, constituting the very heart of our Christian faith. It is no wonder, then, that Christmas is such an important feast.

If you really want to understand and be “in touch” with people, you must go where nobody recognizes you. You must “immerse yourself” in their particular culture—in order to see what the people see; hear what they hear; and live like they live. Simply understanding it in an abstract way is much less effective than experiencing it with your whole being. People who want to really learn a foreign language, for instance, know that this is the most effective method.

God became integrated into the culture of humankind in the person of Jesus. Becoming one of us, He became the ultimate gift of Christmas. This was no “loving from a distance”—it was “loving at extremely close quarters.” God meets us where we are. Taking our humanity upon Himself means we don’t have to deny or reject our humanity in order to know God. He showed us how to live life to its fullest. Religion and holiness became very real, thereby—not merely concerned with the spirit and with heaven, but with the body and the earth.  By becoming a Child, completely dependent upon human care, God eliminated the distance between the divine and the human, which made it impossible for us to even conceive His nature. No one fears a little child. Jesus became a Brother to us. Abstract talking about God can leave us empty. We need God made flesh, a human being like us, walking in our streets, even in our shoes, teaching us the way of God. And that is precisely what we celebrate at Christmas.

The Son of God comes to us not as a judge, but as a Savior. He comes to reveal to us our divine dignity as His children, and show us the glory of our eternal destiny in heaven. This is the Good News—the great joy the angels announced to the shepherds, and that is announced to us in Holy Scripture. We have only to open our hearts to receive it.

Shepherds

It is sometimes said that religion is an escape from the harsh realities of life. But this is a complete misunderstanding. Religion is not an escape from life. Rather, it is a path toward a deeper commitment to life. The following analogy may make this more clear:

Considering the world of Jesus’ time, and even today, we find the life of a shepherd to be a lowly estate. Although they performed an important task, shepherds were obscure, and unrecognized by society-at-large. It was to such people as these that Jesus’ birth was first announced—and who first welcomed it.  Picturing a quiet, dark, poor countryside, with men and boys keeping watch over flocks of sheep, we imagine people who were truly “ripe” for Good News! Scripture suggests God seems to favor coming to those who are poor and who are not afraid to admit it. We might see material poverty as the most obvious kind, but spiritual poverty is worse.  God made His presence known in the midst of customary life, as they were diligently caring for their charges, unsuspecting of any abnormal event. Most often we find Him within our lives, rather than outside them—where we live, in the midst of our daily occupations, in our homes, workplaces, etc.

Recovering from the initial fright, we learn that the shepherds did not sit back, however, as the angels’ message demanded action. They went in search of the Child, journeying to Bethlehem as the angels instructed. Outwardly, they encountered a Child, simply clad, lying in a manger. But inwardly, they recognized Him with the eyes of faith as the Savior, sent by God!  Still, when the excitement faded, and the brightness dimmed, they had to face their dark and cold lives once again. But the Gospel tells us they returned to their fields—rejoicing, glorifying and praising God for all they had seen and heard! Ostensibly, nothing had changed.... However, even as their lives continued as before, their hearts must have been filled with wonder. With new vision, and hope, they possessed a sense of the love of God, and His presence among them. Their formerly obscure lives now glowed with meaning— their old world becoming like a “new country” where everything glistened with marvel.

Even though few, if any of us, have seen angels, we have heard their message. When we worship today, we also see the Child. Unlike the shepherds, we can only see Him with the “eyes of faith”—not simply as an Infant, but as our Savior, Christ, the Lord.  Like the shepherds, we too will also leave His presence and return to our ordinary lives. But perhaps we will do so glorifying and praising God, as they did, for His goodness to us. For in the divine Child, we will also comprehend our own divinity!

Each of us must learn, in our own way, how to be close to God, and how close God can be to us, in the midst of our sometimes painful and sometimes joyful existence. Religion helps us address our deepest longings, adding dimensions that fuel our innermost spirituality. Let us hope to share, in some small way, the same great joy felt by those shepherds long ago. Our joy springs from a sense of God’s presence within us and His love for us. In fact, joy itself is one of the greatest signs of His presence, a glimpse into the sublime.

Christmas: A Feast of the Heart

The prolific Irish writer, Frank O’Connor tells howSanta Claus once brought him a toy train for Christmas (An Only Child, Memoir, 1961.) He took it with him to visit some nuns at a local convent.  While there, the nuns showed him the crib in the chapel. Seeing the Child Jesus without any presents, he was quite upset, feeling utter despondency at His being “forgotten.” Asking why, he heard the nun say, “His mother is too poor to afford any gifts.”

Determined to correct this grave oversight, O’Connor unceremoniously climbed into the crib, and placed his toy train between the outstretched arms of the Baby Jesus!

This story shows the power of Christmas. In this special season, God has given us the opportunity to show our potential for compassion and generosity. Of course, His was the perfect example—He sent us the gift of His only Son!

Scripture tells us ...Who, though He was in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped...instead He emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant...in the likeness of men...accepting the state of man” (Phillipians 2:6-7.)  Our Savior made Himself “small,” “humble” and “insignificant.” In doing so, we don’t feel we have an obligation to bow down before Him, as royalty, but rather, we are made aware of our own poverty. By coming in weakness, He made us aware of our own riches, and evoked a feeling of our compassion to bring our hearts to life.

It was the seeming neglect of the Child Jesus that brought out a reckless act of generosity in a young Frank O’Connor, and it was Jesus’ poverty that spurred the Magi to open their “treasures” before Him so long ago. It also serves as a challenge for us, giving us an opportunity to open our hearts.  Jesus no longer needs our gifts. But other people may. He wants us to share ourselves with one another.

Christmas, then, is an affair of the heart.  It is a feast that gives us a concept of the heart of God; and at the same time, reveals the depth of our own willingness to share with others. What makes us human is not so much our ability to think as our ability to love.  To the extent that we open our hearts to God and to one another, we will experience something of this “great joy,” which is the fruit of love.

May God Richly Bless You!

“Into this world, this demented inn in which there is absolutely no room for him at all, Christ comes uninvited.”  Thomas Merton

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Edited by Father Michael
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