Word Magazine December 1964 Page 3
To the Pastors and Faithful Christians of the Archdiocese:
Peace and Blessing in our Lord Jesus Christ!
(To be read in the churches)
Of all the feasts in the cycle of the Christian year the one that has had the greatest impact on the western world, in which our Archdiocese finds itself, is the approaching celebration of the Nativity of our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. For many of our neighbors it appears to be the only holy day on the calendar. Even those whose interest in life is purely commercial have found that their believing neighbors are inclined to spend at this time of the year. Not only is the commercialism of Christmas foreign to the land from which we come, and surely to the tradition of our ancient Church, but the feast of Christmas itself does not loom large in the calendar of religious festivals. It is one of the twelve great feasts, but there is no doubt in our minds but that Easter is the center of the annual round of commemorations of the great events in the history of our salvation.
Since we are, by the providence of Almighty God, placed in an area where Christmas is, if not the center, at least one of the high points of Christian observance, it is well for us to consider the meaning it should have for us.
Christmas is first of all the recognition of the divine compassion. How presumptuous it would be of man to suppose that God would take leave of the courts of heaven and join us in our misery! And yet this is the first message of Christmas Jesus Christ, light of light, very God of very God, became true man. Took upon himself our nature in all things but sin and suffered for us and for our redemption that we might become sons of God. We have learned this at the lips of our parents, we recite it in the Creed, and yet we are seldom aware of the awful significance it has. We can understand God as absolute perfection, and we know our own feeble nature only too well, yet it is unlikely that the most arrogant human would have concluded that God had become man were it not that the Holy Spirit taught him. In many ways the mystery of God’s becoming man is more awesome, more tremendous, and more demanding of our faith than the mystery of His resurrection from the dead. It is at Christmas, the feast of the humanity of Christ the Lord, that we are reminded of this great condescension. It is a hardened and insensitive soul, deaf to all the finer impulses of which our nature is capable, that can see the image of the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger and fail to be moved. The very beasts of burden in the stable would almost praise the mighty Lord of all things, certainly our hearts cannot remain untouched.
The Babe of Bethlehem is God’s gift to us, and the giving of gifts is a most important feature of Christmas in this land in which we find ourselves. It is in fact this very giving that has been abused by those who would turn a profit from the gift of God to man. This is, in itself, not an evil thing for in what better way can we respond to the gift of divine love than by the reflection of it in our own life? We may deplore the spirit of those who have chosen to make Christmas giving an opportunity for profit, but we can only applaud those who have recognized that free giving is the central thought of this mystery.
When we are told of giving, even of giving to the fine causes represented by our churches, we may be inclined to feel that commercialism has entered the sanctuary. The spiritual aspirations that are called to mind by the sacred feast are perhaps tinged with concern by the suggestion that giving may be required of us.
There is reason in this, for we cannot celebrate Christmas, we cannot stand at the manger side unless we bring our praise, our gold, frankincense and our myrrh to the babe who lies therein. But let us not fear that money is to be asked of us; it is in fact the last thing that we are required to bring to our Bethlehem. Our gift is much more basic than our worldly wealth, for we are challenged to bring our love to the new born King. Not the love our lips declare so easily, not the love that feeds on selfish desire, nor the love in name only that gains us the respect of our neighbors or the affection of those who are unable to look beneath the surface of our souls. The love of Bethlehem is self-sacrificial love, the love that pours itself out in divine mercy for the sinful souls of those who give no gratitude in return, those who are insensitive to the sacrifice that is made on their behalf. It is the burning love that brought the Master of Creation to place Himself in the dirty stable of the country inn, that led Him to endure the scorn, the spitting, the torment and the crucifixion of His enemies for their sakes, and for ours. Nothing less than this is the entrance fee to the stable, nothing less than this can find us a place beside the manger, nothing less than this can make us the sons and daughters of Him who was born on earth for us.
So let us not fear that Christmas may require some small offering of our worldly wealth, some token of the recompense of our skill or our labor. If this is all that Christmas demands of us, if our debt to the Babe is thus easily satisfied, we are indeed fortunate. For it is the teaching of the life-giving Gospel, and of the ancient tradition of the Christian fellowship, that the love of Christmas demands the full measure of our love in return. The free gift of our full person, offered for others, whom we may know or may not know, who are blessed with the talent of appreciation, or too dull of wit or soul to know that we are spending ourselves for them.
As the blessed Master was born in Bethlehem, so may He be born in our hearts, that we may feel the warmth of His presence, the sure guidance of His Spirit through the twisted, thorny way of life in this world, the comfort of His gracious hand upon us as the objects of our efforts seem far away. Let Him be born in us that we may be born in His spirit, that we may acknowledge Him as King and Master, as Teacher, Guide and Guardian, as the pattern of our every endeavour, as the goal of our lives.
Christ is born! Glorify Him!
Brooklyn, Christmas, 1964