Being Christmas Day today, instead of hearing the Gospel of St John that we just heard proclaimed, my guess is that many of us here may be expecting instead, to hear proclaimed, the Gospel of St Luke that describes the baby lying in the manger in swaddling clothes; with Mary and Joseph caring for Him, and with the shepherds in the fields hearing the angels’ message and glorifying God.
First, let us remind ourselves that while Jesus was placed in a manger, the details of the animals in the stable and other details were originated by St Francis of Assisi in 1223. Three years before he died, St Francis was visiting the town of Grecio, in Italy to celebrate Christmas.
When St Francis realized that the chapel of the Franciscan hermitage would be too small to hold the congregation for Midnight Mass, he held it outdoors. In order to excite the crowd, St Francis prepared a manger. He then brought in hay and an ox and ass.
When the crowd gathered, St Francis stood before the manger and with great devotion, and with his eyes bathed in tears and his heart radiant with joy, he proclaimed the Holy Gospel with deep affection and passion. (adapted from the writings of St Bonaventure)
My brothers and Sisters in Christ, the scene of the manger and the details of a Christmas crib do catch our attention and fire our imagination. I believe that is why the Christmas cribs in Europe have more details than just a plain manger. And if the great details of our parish crib (at our Place of Gathering) does not fascinate our imagination and draw us into a deeper reflection of the truth of the Christmas story, then perhaps we have either lost our sense of mystery in life or perhaps our minds are just plain boring.
Let us next note that in the wisdom of the Church’s Tradition, while the Christmas Eve Masses use Luke 2:1-20 Gospel, the Christmas Day Masses use John’s Gospel (that we just heard proclaimed;) a Gospel that does not speak of the scene of the manger, but instead about the Child Jesus being the Divine Word that was made flesh and lived amongst us.
One of the main reasons why the Church uses John’s Gospel on Christmas day is to remind us to affirm the core meaning and Truth behind the scene of the birth of the Child Jesus in a manger. Moreover, the Church may wish to prevent us from being carried away by the sentimentality of the rich images and symbols of the birth of Jesus in the manger and forget the core meaning of what Christmas is about.
In today’s Gospel of St John, the Church wants us to affirm that the infant Child that is born in Bethlehem is Divine; that He existed at the time of Creation and will continue to exist for all eternity. So, the Gospel proclaims, “In the beginning was the Word: the Word was with God and the Word was God . . .” The Gospel then explains further that The Word was the True Light that shines in the dark and enlightens all men . . . and The Word was made flesh; He lived among us, and we saw His glory . . . Yet, His own people did not accept Him . . . but, all who did accept Him, He gave power to become children of God.” So what does the Gospel of John trying to say to you and me today for our Christmas celebration?
One of our Jesuit writers, Fr Joseph Galdon, in his reflection on Christmas says profoundly, “Christmas is a spiritual event. It is not a materialistic celebration, but a reaffirmation of everything that is not material. Christmas decorations and gifts are less important than the spiritual gifts of love, patience and understanding. Christmas has to be something inside us. Christmas means we have to learn how to live again. And because we can sometimes be very stubborn people and that takes a lot of sacrifice and a lot of dying to ourselves.
Christmas also means that Christ has to become a reality in our lives – something meaningful and relevant, not just something we say with our lips. Christ has become everything for us. The Scriptures say that Christ is the Alpha and the Omega. He is the beginning and the end and everything in between. Christmas means that Christ must live in our hearts, in our families, in our country and all parts of the world. We have to look at everything the way Christ would look at them. In every situation of our all-too human lives, we must act as Christ would act.
Every day of our lives, Christ must be born in us again. Every day of the years must become Christmas Day if we truly accept the reality of Christmas. But that is not an easy thing to do, because we can sometime be so unlike Christ; be selfish and petty, and be drawn into pride and festering with anger. In all these we tend to forget everyone and be so wrapped up in ourselves. To make Christ’s birth mean something in our lives, we have to die a little bit every day of our lives.” (The Mustard Seed, Reflections for Daily Living, Jospeh A.Galdon,S.J., Pub.: The Bookmark, Inc.; pg 237-8)
My brothers and sisters in Christ, we all know that the true meaning of Christmas is not easy to live out daily because the world around us, and including the people with whom we live who at times are negative about life and towards others and us, as they themselves are hurting within. And instead of helping us grow in Christ-like ways, these situations and people become the source of our irritation and the cause of our burdens in life.
The Christmas carol, “Rudolf the Red Nose Reindeer, is not as secular as it sounds on the surface. Here is the story told in music by Johnny Marks:
“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Had a very shiny nose
And if you ever saw it
You would even say it glows
And all of the other reindeer
Used to laugh and call him names
They never let poor Rudolph
Join in any reindeer games
Then one foggy Christmas Eve,
Santa came to say,
Rudolph with your nose so bright,
Won't you guide my sleigh tonight?
Then all the reindeer loved him,
And they shouted out with glee,
Rudolph the red-nose Reindeer
You'll go down in history.
One writer, (cf; Fr Munachi Ezeogu), in the light of today’s Gospel interprets Rudolf having a red-nose as a misfit of other reindeers; he is like a lost sheep. But God, “The Word” has become flesh and dwell among us,” in order to free us from our sinfulness. However, our sin mars and disfigures the beautiful image of God that we all are. Sin turns us into the despicable Rudolf, the red-nosed reindeer.
But, the Messiah comes, not to take away the red nose, but to declare the Good News that we are all acceptable to God even with our red noses. Rudolf’s nose was a defect. But, Santa chose him precisely because of his defect. Our Messiah, represented by Santa, does not use his magic wand to heal Rudolf of his red nose defect, even though Rudolf would have wanted to be a normal reindeer.
However, and as I conclude, let us remember that our Messiah, simply accepts us as we are: both our strengths and our weaknesses; our virtues and our vices. He liberates us from our sins, and over time we are to develop a personal relationship with Him. He also empowers us as He gives us the strength and grace to change our ways; from sinfulness to grace; from our insecurity, despair and hopelessness to the wholesome living of blessed assurance, renewed hope and a creative fidelity in our service of God’s Will in our daily living. These are the graces that God wants to give us at Christmas. But, are we open to receiving them or do we want to remain a “Rudolf” that does not want to accept our Messiah’s choice of us to lead others to God in our daily living?
But, if we do accept the graces of Christmas, then in the everyday of our lives, Christ must be born in us again.
Msgr Philip Heng,S.J.
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