Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
The Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord--Christmas: Holy Mush
Merry Christmas to you from the family of St. Ignatius of Antioch in Tarpon Springs, Florida.
I want to begin by telling you about an incident that happened recently regarding one of our wonderful young ladies, a young girl who at the time was in her first year of college, so about 19 years old. Now I am very proud of this girl, as are everyone who knows her. She has had more difficult times than anyone should ever have, including an uncaring father and the death of her brother. But she is not a survivor. She is a conqueror. She is extremely determined. If she says this is the way something is going to be, you had better not get in her way. Her attitude has served her well, because no one tells her what to do or sways her from living her faith.
A few months ago she came down from college to be the godmother for her nephew’s baptism. I saw a new side of her. This tough girl was all “Oooos and Ahhhs and Goo-goos” with the baby. So I said to her, “I never saw you turn into mush before.”
And she responded, “But he’s a baby!”
Babies do that. They turn us into mush. They draw all sorts of love out of us. Perhaps that is one of the reasons that the Holy Spirit inspired Matthew and Luke to tell the stories of Jesus’ birth. Obviously, the Spirit wanted to make it very clear that the world was being transformed by the presence of God become Man. The Spirit asserted in both gospels that the child’s mother is Mary but his father is God. The gospels present Joseph as a foster father or, perhaps better, an adoptive father. Once Joseph named the child, that is, adopted the child, all that was Joseph, his complete ancestry, was poured out upon the child. Jesus was of the line of David due to his adoption by Joseph. The Spirit also used the infancy narratives, the stories in Matthew and Luke, to proclaim that Jesus came for all people. Kings from foreign lands in the Gospel of Matthew and Shepherd from the hills overlooking Bethlehem in the Gospel of Luke come to worship the child. All people, no matter what their position in society, no matter what nation they belong to, all are called to worship the child.
Certainly there are these and other theological reasons for presenting the infancy narratives. But there is also an emotional reason. When we contemplate the birth of Our Lord, and focus on a baby in a manger, not just a baby, but the most perfect baby ever born, we also turn to mush. And that’s a good thing. Love is drawn out of us. And so we come to Church on Christmas, and we sing Silent Night and the other carols not just because we like the melodies, but because we want to express our love for the Newborn Jesus.
Christmas carols are hymns of love.
“Glory to God in the highest and peace to people of good will,” the angels call out. In the Hebrew scriptures, the Old Testament, a multitude of angels is found in the visions of Isaiah and Daniel. In these visions the angels are gathered around the throne of God. Later on, in Christian Scriptures, the New Testament, the Book of Revelation also presents the heavenly host around the throne of God. The only time that a multitude of angels appears where the throne of God is not found is on that hill overlooking Bethlehem. The shepherds are told to seek out the throne of God. They are to find the infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. The manger is His throne.
And the angels sing “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to people of Good will.” The angels proclaim that the transformation of the world has begun. The presence of God is in the world in a way that people can see, and hear, and feel and touch, as St. John would proclaim in his First Letter. People now share an intimate presence of God through Jesus Christ. “I write this so that your joy may be complete,” St. John says.
It is right for us to sing, “Joy to the world.” Jesus came to bring joy. But where is this joy to be found? It is found in our freedom as daughters and sons of God. Over and over again we read about this freedom. For example in the Cantle of Zechariah a new father, Zechariah, sang after the birth of his son, John the Baptist: “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel. He has come to His people and set them free....This is the oath he swore to our Father Abraham, to set us free from the hands of our enemies, free to worship him without fear, free to be holy and righteous in his sight all the days of our lives.”
He draws love out of us. We respond. He gives us the gift of freedom. We are given freedom from our anger, for how can we live in His Presence and be angry with anyone? We are given freedom from succumbing to our temptations. The temptations will always be there, but so will Jesus. We are given freedom from our addictions. He gives us the power to get through each day. We are given freedom from being swayed by the judgment of others. We are no longer enslaved by what everyone else is saying and doing. We are given the freedom to love. This is our joy.
When we focus our lives on Jesus, we each become the person that God created us to be. Together we become the People of God. Yes, there will still be trials and temptations and crises in our lives and in our families. Plenty of them. And yes, the world will continue to horrify us with accounts of deeds so terrible that our stomachs turn. But we are not devastated. Nor are we caught up in the hatred. How can we be? We are beyond all this. We are in the world, but not of the
world. We belong to God. We are united to Jesus Christ. He has come as one of us to rescue us. He has set us free from evil.
What we celebrate today is the birth of the Prince of Freedom, the birth of the Prince of Peace. There are no words capable of expressing our love for our new-born Savior. We look at this child and turn into mush.
Joy to the world!