|16 - Sunday Before Christmas, Dec 21, 2008|
Hebrews 11:9-10, 17-23, 32-40
“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child,” writes St Paul. “When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” Significantly, St Paul writes these words in his well-known chapter on love, found in his first letter to the Corinthians. “For now we see in a mirror dimly,” he goes on to say, “but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” I say “significantly” because I mean to say that here we find what it is that distinguishes the glitter of tinsel town Christmas from the glory of the Gospel’s Christmas.
When we were children, we learned to associate Christmas with tinsel town’s Santa Claus. At some point when we grew older, we learned with keen disappointment that we had to give up this childish fairy tale. The reality seemed so bland and boring compared to the glittering fantasy of this colorful fairy tale; and in fact the reality is bland and boring in comparison, because the reality we live in is a world fallen in darkness because of its forgetfulness and ignorance of God.
But we who have received the Gospel and who have believed in the Good News of Christ’s birth, and who have been baptized into the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection, need again and again to look away from the glitter of tinsel town Christmas and peer intently into the “mirror” of the Church’s theological reality, and listen to the angel voices proclaiming the Noel of Christ’s birth, that we might remember the real meaning of Christmas and catch a glimpse of that heavenly glory that eye has not seen, ear has not heard, and that has not entered into the heart of man, but which God has prepared for those who love him. I think it is then that without hesitation we will gladly give up the childish fairy tale of Santa Claus and rush to put on our baptismal robe of light to go in spirit to Bethlehem and with the eyes of our soul look upon the Virgin as she hastens to the cave to give birth to our God, the Lord of all.
Dear soul wearied by the world and its empty glamour: leave the fields of tinsel town Christmas and come to the Church as to the cave of Bethlehem with the shepherds and the wise men. “Let us look upon the great mystery in the cave,” they cry out to us. “For Eden is opened once again when from a pure Virgin, God comes forth!”
Tinsel town Christmas gives you the childish fantasy of Santa Claus coming down the chimney to bring lots of toys and goodies just for you. The Gospel of the Church gives us the manly reality of God coming forth from the Virgin to give us the heavenly riches of divine life that never dies. Whoever eats and drinks from the Christmas Feast of the Lord’s Table eats the Living Bread that comes from Heaven and drinks the Living Waters of the Holy Spirit from the fountain of immortality, God the Father. For those who partake of this food, the death they die becomes the death of death, the falling away of the old man and the shining forth of the new man that is renewed in the knowledge of him who created us.
Santa Claus comes to you in your house. The angels call you to come away from your house to the Lord’s Table in Bethlehem.
To receive the goodies Santa Claus would give you, you have to go to bed and fall asleep. When you receive the angelic call, you must awaken, rise from your bed and go to Bethlehem. You must empty yourself and come out of yourself to meet Christ at that point where he has emptied himself to meet you: in the tomb of your death, that he might give you the life of his Holy Spirit.
Come on Christmas morning to your stockings hung by the chimney with care and you find lots of toys and goodies the love of which keep you firmly attached to this world. Give up your love for Santa’s toys and goodies to come to Bethlehem and you enter a cave that opens beyond the world onto Eden.
Santa Claus gives you lots of toys and goodies that make you want more toys and goodies. Your soul gives birth to greed, envy and lust, then to anger when what you want isn’t given to you, and to vanity and pride when they are. The Blessed Virgin gives us the judgment of God, which is the love of God, Christ the Lord. The soul wakes up from its sleep and falls to the ground in contrition and sorrow because we see no longer so dimly the face of Christ. It is the face of divine love and grace and truth. It is a face of divine beauty. This is the Image in which we were created. When we look into that face as into a mirror, we see the reflection of our true nature, what we were meant to be; but we see also the reflection of what we have become. We see in our own face not beauty and light but darkness, death and corruption. We have become ugly, soiled with the stench of love for the world, love for self-indulgence, love not for the neighbor, the stranger, the orphan, the widow, but love for toys and goodies, love for this worldly life of death and its deeds. This is the judgment of God that shines upon us. But in that judgment of God’s face, we see also the face of God’s love that shines with the light of divine grace and truth in the darkness of the world. Its radiant beams carry the sound of God’s Word: “Come, you who are thirsty, and I will give you living water to drink. Come, you who are darkened and I will give you light. Come, you who are full of leprosy from greed, envy and lust, from anger, vanity and pride, and I will make you clean. Come, you who are dead in your trespasses, and I will give you life.” This is the judgment of God that calls out to us. Receive Christ, who is the Judgment of God and the Love of God, and you receive the healing of your greed, envy and lust, cleansing of your sins, a new heart and a new spirit. And you are clothed in the robe of light, the many-colored garment of immortality with which we were clothed in the beginning, in the principle of our nature, in the Garden of Eden. Now our soul becomes the cave of Bethlehem and our heart becomes a virginal womb that brings forth the love of God as the blessed Virgin gave birth to Christ.
In Christ, we are no longer children. Certainly we are not children of the world, for we have become children of God. As children of God, we hear a different Christmas story than what the world would tell us. We hear the Gospel of divine love. It is a story of light, of beauty, of glory, of hope, of grace and truth. But to enter into the Gospel’s theological reality, we must give up our childish speech, our childish thoughts and reasonings. We must rise from our bed and leave our house, the house of this worldly life, and we must in spirit go to Bethlehem. We must make our way to the cave of our heart, there to look on the face of the God who created us in his own image, and in the beauty of his face, remember who we are and whose we are. In the joy of that remembrance, we clothe ourselves in the Robe of our baptismal garment. As those who have been called by God out of the darkness and into the light of his holy Church, the ekklesia, we put on, as St Paul writes, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness and patience. We give ourselves to the deeds of the immortal life of God’s Holy Spirit that we were born into when we were baptized: deeds of forbearance, of longsuffering and forgiving one another. And over all of these, we clothe ourselves in the love of God, that the peace of Christ may rule in our hearts. And with the word not of childish fairy tales but of the manly theological reality of Christ dwelling richly in us, we do everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God the Father through Him for the wondrous gift of Christmas, the gift of God’s healing judgment of mercy that cleanses us and makes us alive in the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God the Father and the Communion of the Holy Spirit. Amen.