Christmas: The Birth of a Revolution

Scott Elmer

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.

Photo: Lightstock

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.

COMING UP: Five Colorado places named after Catholic saints

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

On Aug. 1, Colorado will have made it way over the hill at a ripe 144 years old. Better known as Colorado Day, the day commemorates the founding of our great Centennial State in 1876.

The Catholic Church has a rich history in Colorado, and believe it or not, various regions, geographic landmarks and places in the state are named after Catholic saints. The San Juan Mountain Range, the San Miguel River and the San Luis Valley are but a few examples.

In honor of Colorado Day, here are five places within “Colorful Colorado” that take their namesake from a Catholic saint. You probably already know a couple of them, but the other three are real “diamonds in the rough” that are worth making the trek; in fact, two of them were built and founded before Colorado was even Colorado.

Mother Cabrini Shrine, Golden, CO

 

One of Colorado’s most popular pilgrimage sites, it’s hard not to be enamored by Mother Cabrini Shrine. Originally founded as a girls’ summer camp by St. Frances Cabrini in 1910, the shrine overlooks the I-70 corridor heading into the mountains and is as charming as it is relaxing. In addition to the praying in the chapel, visitors can stay in the old Stone House that was built in 1914 or one of the various retreat houses that have been added over the years. Aside from being a wonderful space to pray, Mother Cabrini Shrine doubles as a sort of natural Stairmaster to get those steps in with the 373-step staircase leading up to the shrine, affectionately known as the Stairway of Prayer.

St. Catherine of Siena Chapel, Allenspark, CO

Photo by Andrew Wright

Better known as the Chapel on the Rock, this functioning Catholic chapel is perhaps one of Colorado’s most iconic landmarks. As the story goes, in the early 20th century, a man by the name of William McPhee owned the land where the chapel stands, known as Camp St. Malo. McPhee was a parishioner of the Cathedral in Denver, and he often allowed the parish to take kids hiking and camping on his property. During one of those trips, several campers saw a meteorite or shooting star that had appeared to hit the earth. They went looking for it and came upon the Rock that now stands as the foundation of St. Catherine of Siena Chapel. Completed in 1936, the chapel’s official namesake is fitting, as both it and St. Catherine of Siena share a common thread of mystical experiences facilitated by the Lord. It has had many visitors over the years, but perhaps none so famous as St. John Paul II who, ever the outdoorsman, just had to make a stop while in Denver for World Youth Day in 1993.

Abbey of St. Walburga, Virginia Dale, CO

 

Photo courtesy of the Abbey of St. Walburga

Located in the picturesque Virginia Dale, a small community just south of the Wyoming border, the Abbey of St. Walburga is a place where the voice of the Lord lives in the mountains, plains and rivers surrounding it. Named for the patroness of the Benedictine nuns, the abbey was founded in 1935 when three sisters from the Abbey of St. Walburg in Eichstätt, Bavaria were sent to a remote farm in what was Boulder. There, they built a strong foundation for the future of the abbey through hard work, poverty and an immovable trust in God’s providence. Today, the Benedictine nuns of Walburga humbly carry out the good works of the Benedictine order and carry on the legacy started nearly a millennium ago in 1035, when the original Walburg abbey in Eichstätt was founded.

San Luis, CO

Photo by Jeremy Elliot

Moving into the southern most regions of the State of Colorado, the Catholic roots of the region become much more evident. The oldest town in Colorado, San Luis, was founded in 1851 on the Feast of St. Louis, and predates the official founding of Colorado as a state by 25 years. The town is located along the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, which translates to “Blood of Christ.” One of the main attractions of the small town of just over 600 is a shrine at the town’s local Catholic parish. The Shrine of the Stations of the Cross was built by the parishioners of Sangre de Cristo Parish and the beautiful stations were designed and sculpted by native San Luis sculptor Huberto Maesta.

Capilla de Viejo San Acacio, Costilla County, CO

Photo from Wikicommons

Just to the west of the town of San Luis lies one of Colorado’s oldest gems. The Chapel of Old St. Acacius, or Capilla de Viejo San Acacio as it’s known to the locals, is the oldest non-Native American religious site in Colorado that’s still active today. While the building of the church cannot be dated precisely, it was likely completed sometime in the 1860s. The namesake of the church comes from St. Acacius of Byzantium, a third century martyr. Near the church is the small village of San Acacio, which a local tradition holds got its name after one of the earliest San Luis Valley settlements, originally called Culebra Abajo, was attacked by a band of Ute in 1853. As the Ute attackers approached, the villagers asked for the intercession of St Acacius, a popular saint among their people. The Ute suddenly halted and fled before they reached the town, scared off by a vision of well-armed warriors defending it. In gratitude for this salvation, the village was renamed San Acacio, and the villagers built a mission church in honor of the saint.