Christmas Meditation


December 25, 2014

Defining things is something of a passion of mine, I find. This year, I was forced to define, in concrete terms, what Christmas meant to me.  Just me.  My definitions. And I found that Christmas, for me, has two real meanings: one public, the other very personal. When I was growing up, there was a tradition in my church.  It was a tradition that, for me, continued into my adulthood. Before the Midnight Christmas Eve Mass, there would be an hour of hymn singing.  It was quiet, so quiet.  The lights were lowered.  Most spent the time on their knees.  The familiar carols were sung in almost a hushed voice, crooning soothing sounds to the newborn Jesus.  Hymns as lullabies.  It was so beautiful.  So moving. So reverent. This Advent [...]

CHRISTMAS: Grace In Human Depths by Karl Rahner

December 25, 2014

From The Mystical Way in Everyday Life It is not particularly enjoyable to prepare a commentary or to write an editorial about Christmas.  The listener or reader may feel the same way.  Isn’t it always the same old thing – a little “festive mood,” some pious and altruistic phrases, a few expensive gifts (along with the work of expressing one’s gratitude afterwards)?  And then everything continues as before.  Those who are Christians are under a particular obligation not to be deluded by the wonder of Christmas.  After all, Christians should not be people who cover up the miserable truth about human existence; most certainly not.  Christians hang on the wall a cross that frames their life, a cross that is a [...]

CHRISTMAS MEDITATION: The Fullness of the Time by Joan Chittister

January 10, 2013

From The Liturgical Year There’s a popular folk tale about three blind men who walk around an elephant to determine what kind of beast this animal might be.  One takes hold of the elephant’s tail and says, “This creature is very like a rope.”  The second happens to take hold of its tusk and says, “This creature is very like a spear.”  And the third, patting the wide, hard side of the animal, says, “This creature is surely a wall.”  Obviously, if any one of them had all three insights at once, these men would have understood a great deal more about elephants than any one of them could possibly know alone. Liturgical spirituality is a bit like that as well.  Each season has a great consuming centerpiece on which we [...]

CHRISTMAS MEDITATION: The Disarming Child by Jürgen Moltmann

January 7, 2013

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined. The people will rejoice. For the yoke of their burden and the staff on their shoulder and the rod of their oppressor thou hast broken as on the day of Midian. For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty Hero, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David, and over his kingdom, to establish it and to [...]

CHRISTMAS MEDITATION: The Showing Forth Of Christ by John Donne

January 6, 2013

Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for my eyes have seen thy salvation. (Luke 2:29-30) The whole life of Christ was a continual Passion; others die martyrs but Christ was born a martyr.  He found a Golgotha, where he was crucified, even in Bethlehem, where he was born; for to his tenderness then the straws were almost as sharp as the thorns after, and the manger as uneasy at first as the cross at last.  His birth and his death were but one continual act, and his Christmas day and his Good Friday are but the evening and morning of the same day.  And as even his birth is his death, so every action and passage that manifests Christ to us is his birth, for Epiphany is manifestation.  Every [...]

CHRISTMAS MEDITATION: The Wise Men by Ernesto Cardenal

January 4, 2013

The place is Solentiname, an archipelago in Lake Nicaragua; the setting, a campesino church service in the mid-1970s.  Padre Cardenal, the priest, does not believe in sermons, but brings the gospel alive by leading his congregation in weekly dialogues like this one: We were in the church.  I said by way of introduction that Matthew’s words, “in the days of Herod the King,” tell us that Jesus was born under a tyranny.  There were three Herods; or, as we might say in Nicaragua, three Somozas: Herod the elder, Herod his son, and a grandson Herod.  Herod the elder, the one at the time of Jesus’s birth, had ordered two of his sons to be strangled on suspicion of conspiracy, and he also killed one of his wives.  At the time of [...]

CHRISTMAS MEDITATION: Only a Rumor by Søren Kierkegaard

January 4, 2013

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.  When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.  And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. (Matthew 2:1-4) Although the scribes could explain where the Messiah should be born, they remained quite unperturbed in Jerusalem.  They did not accompany the Wise Men to seek him.  Similarly we may know the whole of Christianity, yet make no movement.  The power that [...]

CHRISTMAS MEDITATION: When The Time Was Fulfilled by Eberhard Arnold

January 1, 2013

Joseph went up to Bethlehem to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.  While they were there, the time was fulfilled for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. (Luke 2:5-6) “When the time was fulfilled. . . .”   What a redeeming power there is in these words!  We are concerned day in and day out with lesser or greater matters that are to serve God and his cause.  We work sometimes until we are weary and yet we see so little fruit.  Does everything remain as it was?  Haven’t we gone forward at all?  Have we really been able to help a little somewhere, or have we merely affected the surface of things?  Where is there a trace or glimpse of the goal we long [...]

CHRISTMAS MEDITATION: The Time Of No Room by Thomas Merton

December 31, 2012

He who has come to men dwells where we cannot tell nor sight reveal him, until the hour has struck when the small heart does break with hunger for him; those who do merit least, those whom no tongue does praise the first to know him, and on the face of the earth the poorest village street blossoming for him. So there was no room at the inn?  True!  But that is simply mentioned in passing, in a matter-of-fact sort of way, as the Evangelist points to what he really means us to see — the picture of pure peace, pure joy: “She wrapped her firstborn son in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger.” (Luke 2:7)  By now we know it well, and yet we might still be questioning it — except that a reason was given for an act that might [...]

CHRISTMAS MEDITATION: The Visited Planet by Philip Yancey

December 30, 2012

Sorting through the stack of cards that arrived at our house last Christmas, I note that all kinds of symbols have edged their way into the celebration.  Overwhelmingly, the landscape scenes render New England towns buried in snow, usually with the added touch of a horse-drawn sleigh.  On other cards, animals frolic: not only reindeer but also chipmunks, raccoons, cardinals, and cute gray mice.  One card shows an African lion reclining with a foreleg draped affectionately around a lamb. Angels have made a huge comeback in recent years, and Hallmark and American Greetings now feature them prominently, though as demure, cuddly-looking creatures, not the type who would ever need to announce “Fear not!”  The explicitly religious cards [...]

CHRISTMAS MEDITATION: Christ’s History, and Ours by Gustavo Gutiérrez

December 29, 2012

The Gospel of Luke tells us that “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled.  This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria.” (2:1-2)  The Gospel of Matthew adds that Jesus was born, “In Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod.” (2:1) These simple texts convey a profound message: Jesus was born in a particular place at a particular time.  He was born under Emperor Octavius, who had himself named Augustus when he reached the pinnacle of power; when Quirinius was governor of Syria; during the reign of Herod, who was traitor to his people and had sold out to the occupying power.  It was during this time that Jesus was born, a man of no importance in the [...]

CHRISTMAS MEDITATION: The Grand Miracle by C. S. Lewis

December 28, 2012

Supposing you had before you a manuscript of some great work, either a symphony or a novel.  There then comes to you a person, saying, “Here is a new bit of the manuscript that I found; it is the central passage of that symphony, or the central chapter of that novel.  The text is incomplete without it.  I have got the missing passage which is really the center of the whole work.” The only thing you could do would be to put this new piece of the manuscript in that central position, and then see how it reflected on the whole of the rest of the work.  If it constantly brought out new meanings from the whole of the rest of the work, if it made you notice things in the rest of the work which you had not noticed before, then I think you [...]

CHRISTMAS MEDITATION: The Christmas Gospel by Dorothee Söelle

December 27, 2012

When the angels had left them and gone into Heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”  So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.  When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.  But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.  The shepherds returned, glorifying God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. (Luke 2:15-20) For many years I was so disgusted by the commercialization that Christmas has endured, so sickened by the terror of consumption, the [...]

CHRISTMAS MEDITATION: Ox and Ass by Giovanni Papini

December 26, 2012

Jesus was born in a stable, a real stable, not the bright, airy portico which Christian painters have created for the son of David, as if ashamed that their God should have lain down in poverty and dirt.  And not the modern Christmas Eve “holy stable” either, made of plaster of Paris, with little candy-like statuettes, the holy stable, clean and prettily painted, with a neat, tidy manger, an ecstatic ass, a contrite ox, and angels fluttering their wreaths on the roof — this is not the stable where Jesus was born. A real stable is the house, the prison of the animals who work for man.  The poor, old stable of Christ’s old, poor country is only four rough walls, a dirty pavement, a roof of beams and slate.  It is dark, reeking.  [...]

CHRISTMAS MEDITATION: The Mystery by Saint John Chrysostom

December 25, 2012

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:13-14) I behold a new and wondrous mystery.  My ears resound to the shepherds’ song, piping no soft melody, but chanting full forth a heavenly hymn.  The angels sing.  The archangels blend their voice in harmony.  The cherubim hymn their joyful praise.  The seraphim exalt his glory.  All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on Earth, and man in Heaven.  He who is above, now for our redemption dwells here below; and he that was lowly is by divine mercy raised up. Bethlehem this day resembles Heaven; hearing from the stars [...]