Christmas is beyond a doubt the most culturally rich experience that we have as Americans and also as Catholics. We have traditions around how we decorate the inside and outside of our homes, the types of foods we eat, how we open presents, how we serve the poor, how we worship, and my personal favorite, the songs that we sing.
The music, in my opinion, is the most obvious aspect which separates Christmas from every other holiday in both American and Catholic culture. If you think about it, we don’t really have popular, genre-defining music for any other holiday or liturgical season other than Christmas. If I’m honest, nothing makes me want Easter to come sooner than listening to “Lord Who Throughout these Forty Days.” At least in Advent we get the saving grace of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel…”
All snark aside, Christmas music is both enjoyable to listen to and incredibly rich with theology. If we take the time to listen to the lyrics, we can avail ourselves to the power of the gift that Christmas really is. For example, the carol “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” tells the story of Christmas but also communicates an underlying meaning:
God rest ye merry gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay
Remember, Christ, our Saviour
Was born on Christmas day
To save us all from Satan’s power
When we were gone astray
O tidings of comfort and joy
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy
The song begins by encouraging us to let nothing dismay us and wishing us comfort and joy. Right now, as Catholics, that seems like a pretty tall order.
From scandals within our Church, to grave sins being institutionalized into our society, to suffering through family members and loved ones abandoning the faith, dismay and discouragement have dang near become some people’s temperaments. Yet, the message of Jesus Christ does not leave room for dismay and discouragement but offers comfort and joy.
In a materially driven society, we may associate the word comfort with hot cocoa, fuzzy blankets, and memory foam mattresses, but scripturally, it has a different connotation. “Comfort” is the word that the prophet Isaiah uses to mark a significant turning point in the history of God’s people. Isaiah 40 begins, “Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God.” The prophet then briefly outlines the ministry of what will be John the Baptist and continues in verse 5, “Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
The call for “comfort” issues in the revealing of God’s glory! It is clear that Isaiah isn’t saying, “Relax, O Israel! Take a load off, warm your feet by the fire and fix yourself a bourbon and eggnog…” In reality, the message is more akin to, “Take heart! There is hope!” For as the song tells us, “Remember, Christ, Our Savior was born on Christmas Day to save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray.” Take heart and be joyful because at Christmas, we celebrate the birth of a revolution.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “revolution” as: “the overthrow or renunciation of one government or ruler and the substitution of another by the governed.” This is exactly what begins with Christmas. Jesus himself teaches us that the ruler of this world is the devil. We are born, according to the Catechism, in “captivity under the power of him who thenceforth had the power of death, that is, the devil.” Christmas is the birth of the revolution which establishes the Kingdom of Heaven on earth.
In this revolution, which began over 2,000 years ago and continues today, we all have parts to play. Continuing the motif of the carol, we can see a couple of paths which should inform our response to the grace of Christmas. The most perfect example is of course given to us by Jesus’ Blessed Mother, Mary.
In Bethlehem, in Israel
This blessed Babe was born
And laid within a manger
Upon this blessed morn
The which His Mother Mary
Did nothing take in scorn
We are all familiar with the trials that Mary and Joseph faced leading up to the birth of Jesus Christ. In Hispanic culture, these trials are remembered and re-enacted in a celebration called Las Posadas. In the midst of all the trials which surround the birth of grace, revolution, and hope, Mary scorns none of it. Instead, she holds on to the promise given to her by the angel and faces all of her trials with conviction, peace and complete confidence in her God. When the seed of salvation is given to you, are you scornful at the conditions in which it comes to you? Are the opportunities to be selfless, patient, and uncomfortable, occasions for grace and growth for you? Or complaints and resentment? Mary scorned nothing about the unideal situation in which Christ was brought into the world.
Our other example comes from the Shepherds:
The shepherds at those tidings
Rejoiced much in mind
And left their flocks a-feeding
In tempest, storm and wind
And went to Bethlehem straightway
The Son of God to find
When the message of the Lord reaches the shepherds, they are engaged in other responsibilities. Yet, they leave their flocks. Not only do they leave them, but they leave them in tempest, storm and wind. Given the magnitude of the grace being offered, the shepherds could not afford to wait to settle their affairs but went straightway to Bethlehem to find the Son of God. When the renewed grace of Jesus Christ comes into your life this Christmas season, many of you will be engaged in other responsibilities. But can you afford to delay your search to find the newness of the Son of God?
Every Christmas, the Lord gives a new grace to us. Every Christmas, He comes into the world in a new way, shaping the direction of the plan of salvation as it continues to be lived out by His Church. In 2020, I believe the Lord is doing a new thing as it is written in Isaiah 43:19.
Christmas is the season where we ask the Lord to open our eyes to perceive it! While recent years and events may tempt us to dismay, take heart, take courage, take comfort and rejoice in the Lord who has given us the gift of His son, Jesus.
Concerning what’s before us, I say: Woe to you 2020, because Jesus Christ, the Lord and Savior, is born again. The mustard seed of the Kingdom has been planted and nothing will stop its growth. Catholics in Northern Colorado, set yourselves apart, gird your loins and prepare yourselves to advance the revolution which Jesus began and continues to lead as His thirst for souls and love for the lost can never be quenched. May the holy tide of Christmas come like a flood and may the new grace which the Lord offers us be received as Mary and the Shepherds received it. Let us scorn nothing of our circumstances and drop everything to seek you, Jesus. Let this year be your year, the year of Christ the King.