Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
The Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord, Christmas: Making the Spiritual Real
The lights in the neighborhood, the carols, the cards, the cookies, the smiles on peoples’ faces, the children’s excitement, all of these and so much more make this the most special time of the year. I love all the traditions that have evolved around Christmas, even those that are just legends. For example, the song The Little Drummer Boy was popularized in the 1950's. There wasn’t a little drummer boy in Bethlehem, well at least there’s no record of one. And the robin probably didn’t receive his red breast from fanning the fire in the stable to keep the Baby Jesus warm. But, all the traditions and legends of Christmas have this element of truth: they present the joy of the world at the birth of its Savior.
A member of the parish said to me that she felt conflicted regarding this Christmas. She felt the joy of the season, but she also felt an overwhelming sadness. She didn’t know where the sadness is coming from, she and her family were healthy; everyone was getting along well, but she still felt sad.
I told her that she might be reacting to what was a very difficult year for our country as well as the world. Every day we hear about horrible things taking place in some part of the world. We have gone from one mass murder to another while the most powerful lobby in Washington, DC vigorously defends the rights of people to own weapons designed for the battlefield. And the politicians listen to them, not to the overwhelming majority of the people. Every day brings new absurdities from one of the branches of the government, or, some days, from all three of them.
What we have to remember is that the events of the country and the world are on the physical plane. What the world needs, longs for, is the spiritual. Jesus Christ is our King, but his Kingdom is not physical. It is spiritual. He came to restore the Life of God to the world and to individuals. He became a King, but one who wore a crown of thorns. He was not concerned with the machinations of the governments of his time. He was concerned with establishing the Kingdom of God. In Jesus Christ the spiritual becomes physical. Listen to what John says in the introduction to his First Letter:
What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerns the Word of Life. For the life was made visible. We have seen it and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was made visible to us, what we have seen and heard we proclaim now to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; for our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We are writing this so that our joy may be complete. Now this is the message that we have heard from him and proclaim to you: God is Light, and in him there is no darkness. If we say, “We have fellowship in him” while continuing to walk in darkness, we lie and do not act in truth. But if we walk in the Light as He is in the Light, then we have fellowship with one another and the blood of his Son Jesus cleanses us from all sin. 1 John 1:1-7.
Is the world all that much different than it was at the time of the Lord? Granted our society has technology that could not even be imagined 2000 years ago. But then as now the poor were taken advantage of, the dark streets of the cities enticed many to sin, people were told that they had to take care of themselves first, and materialism was worshiped as the supreme good.
But there is this big difference: In the time before the Lord everywhere people looked they experienced evil. Now people who look hard, people who seek, can and do experience good. They experience good in the members of the Kingdom of God who take stands against hatred, bigotry and prejudice, They experience good in those who seek to restore morality to the world. They experience good in those who place others before themselves......and God before all.
Jesus was born in a stable in Bethlehem, completely void of the materialistic trappings that would accompany so many celebrations of his birth. Why? Why wasn’t Jesus born in a palace? What was God saying to us? St. Francis of Assisi, who is credited with beginning the tradition of the Christmas crèche in the thirteenth century, was certain that in Bethlehem God proclaimed that materialism does not matter. The physical takes its value from its union with the spiritual.
Bethlehem was 2000 years ago, but we are here now. We must provide the world with an authentic celebration of the Divine Child’s birth. Our lives have value when we are united to the spiritual. We can transform the world from its despicable exaltation of materialism, to union with God. Throughout scripture, God is presented as a bridegroom, seeking marriage to his people, his bride. He marries us so that our lives might be full of Divine Love.
My sisters and my brothers, we have to reject hatred. We should not even allow the word hate to enter our vocabulary. We cannot be part of a mob mentality that accepts any form or degree of hatred for what it claims is a greater good. Good never comes from hate. Jesus said in Matthew 7:16, “By their fruits you will know them.” History has shown us the toleration of hatred has resulted in the most despicable actions of mankind.
We must be different. We can and we must put the Love of God before everything else. This is what Jesus did when He accepted the worst that the world could do to Him and adamantly refused to hate. This is what we do when we love those who attack us be they members of our families, people in the neighborhood or at work or school, or even members of terrorist organizations. “By patient endurance you will save your lives,” Jesus said in Luke 21:19. Patient endurance is the scriptural term for martyrdom, for giving witness to Christ.
A child is born in a stable. He calls his followers, his disciples, us, to proclaim the Good News, the Gospel, to the ends of the world. The Spiritual has become physical. And now we, the physical can become spiritual. We can join the Prince of Peace by choosing Love. We can and we must unite ourselves to Him, the Divine Lover, and make the spiritual real.
The world longs for a Savior. In Romans 8:19 St. Paul wrote: Creation waits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God. We are those children. We have received the mandate to assure the world first with our lives and then with our words that there is an infinitely great reason for all to have a Merry Christmas.