Christmas Day : The Fulfilment of Our Deepest Desire.
Jesus is described in the O Antiphons as the Desire of All the Nations, the one to break our hearts of stone and bring forth the reign of God. In any Church over the past few weeks, Catholic or not, you may have heard a mild exhortation not to get too carried away with the mercantile dimension of the Christmas season. The cultural place of Christmas is as important as whatever religious meaning the individual attaches to this festival. The gifts that we receive at Christmas, we are told, symbolise the gifts presented to Jesus at his birth by the Magi. Those gifts, we are also told, symbolise in themselves the journey of Jesus to the Cross and represent the nature of the Christ as King, Prophet and Priest. The juxtaposed image of a family having to resort to giving birth in very poor circumstances being revered by a group of nobles from “the East” (take it from far away lands), we are told, is a device employed to illustrate the political nature of the birth of Jesus. Even the star, rising in the east, guiding the Magi and astonishing the shepherds in the fields, we are told, was God’s indication that all of nature was geared towards this very moment – this moment of tremendous gift.
It is in giving that we receive but the converse is also true – in receiving, we learn the value of giving. Nobody would suggest that a maxed-out credit card and a partial neurosis caused by just one too many trips to Westfield is the price one necessarily pays for this lesson. However, the joy, the anticipation that children especially experience at Christmas is one of those cherished memories that most of us get to relive at Christmas. Of course, as one gets older, the joyful anticipation of Christmas can be eclipsed by the need to prepare a Christmas meal, entertain visitors and spend the next two days clearing the debris away. More often, we get a kick out of the grandkids and nephews/nieces as they take their place in the wonder of the Christmas season.
Whatever we think of Christmas as the entire package, we should always avoid becoming a Scrooge-like figure, not the selfish, miserly character of folklore but rather someone who is numb to the point of ambivalence. “No warmth could warm, no wintry weather chill him. No wind that blew was bitterer than he, no falling snow was more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty.” It is the time of care deeply about one another.
After all, our deepest desire is fulfilled – that love is always possible and that it doesn’t come gift-wrapped but in the most ordinary packaging imaginable.
Franciscan Reading for Christmas Day.
A reading from the ‘Later Admonition and Exhortation, to the Brothers and Sisters of Penance’, by Saint Francis.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Brother Francis, their servant and subject, sends esteem and reverence, true peace from heaven and sincere love in the Lord to all Christian religious people: clergy and laity, men and women, and to all who live in the whole world.
Because lam the servant of all, I am obliged to serve all and to administer the fragrant words of my Lord to them. Therefore, realizing that I could not visit each one of you personally because of sickness and the weakness of my body, I decided to offer you in this letter and message the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Word of the Father, and the words of the Holy Spirit, who are spirit and life.
The Most High Father made known from heaven through his holy angel Gabriel this Word of the Father – so worthy, so holy and glorious – in the womb of the holy and glorious Virgin Mary, from whose womb he received the flesh of our humanity and frailty. Though he was rich, he wished, together with the most Blessed Virgin, his mother, to choose poverty in the world beyond all else.
Let every creature
in heaven, on earth, in the sea and in the depths,
give praise, glory, honour and blessing
to him who suffered so much,
who has given and will give in the future every good,
for he is our power and strength,
who alone is good, who alone is almighty,
who alone is onmipotent, wonderful, glorious
and who alone is holy, worthy of praise and blessing
through endless ages.