Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas Is For Kids

Christmas was on its way. Lovely, glorious, beautiful Christmas, upon which the entire kid year revolved
I really do love "A Christmas Story", about Ralphie, his love of Christmas and his earnest and deep yearning for an "official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle!"  That movie reflected better than any movie ever made the meaning of Christmas for a kid. As a kid, Christmas is all about deep desires, building anticipation, a time when there is real potential fulfillment of every wish and longing.  As Ralphie says:  "Christmas was on its way. Lovely, glorious beautiful Christmas, upon which the entire kid year revolved."

As adults, we don't quite see it that way.  Adults have lost the sense of wonderment and awe of Christmas as exemplified by Ralphie.  It is instead too often a time of great stress, figuring out what to give who, spending money we don't have, fighting other people at the store on "Black Friday" and the rest of the Christmas season, spending too much time and money to put up lavish decorations in and around the house, expensive electric bills, fights with family, and trying desperately to have everything done by Christmas Day.  Far too many adults are sick of Christmas by the time it actually arrives.

Of course, Ralphie didn't have a truly proper understanding of Christmas, either.  Christmas is not about getting an air rifle.  But Ralphie was right that Christmas is about hope and the fulfillment of every longing and desire.

And Christmas is about a Child.

Christmas is yet another example of God doing things that we never expect in ways that we would never dream of. The great God of the universe - the Creator of everything - the God of unlimited power - came to earth as the most helpless of all creatures - a newborn human baby. A newborn baby cannot even turn himself over. He can't speak except for cries and other guttural noises. He can't do anything for himself. He must be fed, cleaned and dressed by others. He is completely vulnerable, totally unable to defend himself.

The end of the Savior's human life mirrored the beginning, when he was actually even more helpless than he was as a newborn baby. He could not move at all on the cross, his life blood draining out of him, making him even physically weaker than he was as a newborn. But it was at that moment - when he was weaker than any man alive - that He was most powerful, conquering sin and death. God's power was shown at its most most magnificent in human weakness.

The Savior came to earth not only as a helpless newborn baby, but as a poverty stricken baby with not even a bed in which to lay his head, as stated so eloquently in the the Christmas Eve Homily of Pope Francis:
This Child teaches us what is truly essential in our lives. He was born into the poverty of this world; there was no room in the inn for him and his family. He found shelter and support in a stable and was laid in a manger for animals. And yet, from this nothingness, the light of God's glory shines forth.

All of the longings and desires of mankind were fulfilled in this helpless babe lying in a bed of hay. Without this tiny baby, the world would know nothing but misery, suffering and death. Again, to quote from the Holy Father:
And yet, from this nothingness, the light of God's glory shines forth. From now on, the way of authentic liberation and perennial redemption is open to every man and woman who is simple of heart. This Child, whose face radiates the goodness, mercy and love of God the Father, trains us, his disciples, as Saint Paul says, 'to reject godless ways' and the richness of the world, in order to live 'temperately, justly and devoutly' (Tit 2:12).
The way of the Lord had always been to choose the very weakest to confound the mighty.  We saw this when the Lord selected Abraham to be the father of his chosen people.   Abraham and his wife were childless, and Sarah was past the child bearing age when they were told that Isaac would be born.  Several hundred years later, when about 2 million of Abraham's descendants were enslaved in Egypt, God delivered them from their slavery into glorious freedom by using a powerless shepherd named Moses.  When the time came to choose the kingly ancestor of Jesus, the Lord again called out a powerless shepherd, this time a young boy named David who was even passed over by his own father.

When the Lord came to earth as a human being, He came in a way no human would have ever chosen.  He was born into a poor family, in a vermin infested manger, and then chased out of his own country by a king determined to kill him.  Jesus did not come as one of the wealthy, powerful elites of the world.  Jesus did not even take any religious authority upon himself.  He lived among the poorest and least powerful people enslaved by Rome.

Jesus was strong because he made himself weak, just as St. Paul told us in II Corinthians 2:10:
That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
This goes against all human reasoning and logic.  And that is one of the major lessons we must learn from the little babe in the manger.  We must never think we know the mind of God.  We must never assume that we understand His Ways.  We must leave ourselves as open and trusting and nonjudgmental as the babe lying in the manger.  As Our Holy Father stated:
There is no room for doubt; let us leave that to the skeptics who, by looking to reason alone, never find the truth. There is no room for the indifference which reigns in the hearts of those unable to love for fear of losing something. All sadness has been banished, for the Child Jesus brings true comfort to every heart.
The true story of Christmas, the true meaning of Christmas, is the most radical message in the world, and sadly, there are a precious few who truly understand it.  This was most certainly true at the time the Christ Child was born into the world.

There were two groups of people to whom the angels announced the birth of the Christ Child.  The first group was the lowliest of society - the shepherds in the fields, shunned by everyone else for their vulgar and uncivilized ways, men who seldom even washed and would never be invited into anyone's home.

The announcement to the shepherds
Source
The second group was Gentile kings and scientists.  This group would never be accepted by Christ's own people, the Jews.

The Wise Men
Source
Why were these two disparate groups chosen to witness the birth of the Savior?  Why wasn't the announcement made to those in influential positions, and to the world in general?

The great Venerable Fulton Sheen gave us the answer:
Notice, too, that at the crib, only two classes of people found their way to Christ when he came to this earth: the simple and the very learned -- the shepherds who knew that they knew nothing, and the wise men who knew that they did not know everything; never the man who thought that he knew.
These two groups of men exemplified the childlike attitude that is so necessary in the life of a Christian. One reason Christ came to us as a helpless baby is to show us that this is how we need to go to Him. We need to realize that we are completely helpless without Him, that He is our strength, He is our Life. As Jesus Christ told us in Matthew 18:3: "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." Can we be as trusting and obedient as the babe in the manger? Can we follow the example of the Blessed Mother and her husband, Joseph, who completely gave themselves into the service of the Lord, no matter the sacrifice, even though they rarely understood the full meaning of the events in their lives.

I entitled this post, "Christmas Is For Kids." That is a bit of a misnomer. The more correct way to state this is "Christmas Is For the Childlike." Christmas is for those who deny themselves, who see God's power in their weakness, who understand that the powerful of this world are the weakest of all, and that we will only find Christ in the most poor and downtrodden of humanity.

Finding Christ in the poor is a central message of Pope Francis' pontificate. He taught this most profoundly during his recent trip to Africa. As Crux Magazine reported:
Francis traveled to a slum in Nairobi called Kangemi. With no sewage system and limited electricity, it’s home to roughly 150,000 people congested in a small valley with steep slopes rolling down to the Nairobi River.
As Crux Magazine reported, the Holy Father denounced the dire conditions in which the people in this slum lived, but this was not his main message:
Looking more closely, however, Francis didn’t go to Kangemi simply to commiserate with Africa’s poor. He went to acknowledge what he called “the wisdom found in poor neighborhoods.

He praised the poor for what he called their “stubborn resistance” to what’s inauthentic or secondary, saying they cling to “Gospel values which an opulent society, anesthetized by unbridled consumption, would seem to have forgotten.”

Francis complained that a “language of exclusion” generally “disregards or seems to ignore” this wisdom, treating the poor as problems, or objects of relief, rather than as sources of insight.

He quoted a document from a group of priests in his native Argentina who serve in what Argentines call the villas miserias, meaning the “villas of misery,” the vast slums that ring their major cities.

A poor community, according to the document, “can offer something to these times in which we live. It is expressed in values such as solidarity, giving one’s life for others, preferring birth to death, providing Christian burial to one’s dead; finding a place for the sick in one’s home, sharing bread with the hungry (for ‘there is always room for one more seat at the table’), showing patience and strength when faced with great adversity, and so on.”
. . .
“The path of Jesus began on the peripheries,” he said Friday. “It goes from the poor and with the poor, toward others.”
Jesus will never be found among the rich and powerful of this world. This includes those with great monetary wealth, but in an even greater sense, it includes those who are rich in themselves, trusting in themselves. That is the message of the Christ Child.

In his Christmas Day sermon, Pope Francis continued this message of the freedom we receive in the Christ Child:
He alone, he alone can save us. Only God’s mercy can free humanity from the many forms of evil, at times monstrous evil, which selfishness spawns in our midst. The grace of God can convert hearts and offer mankind a way out of humanly insoluble situations.
This is the radical message of Christmas:  a helpless child laying in a manger is the one to free humanity from the evil that enslaves and kills us.  And at the culmination of the life of this child is a man hanging on a cross with no strength left in his body who delivers us from sin and death.

We, too, can only be instruments of salvation if we allow God to work in us as He did in his own Son.  His Son was made perfect in weakness.  We, too, can only be made perfect if we die to ourselves.  As long as we trust in ourselves, as long as we think we have the answers, as long as we trust in anything other than God, He cannot work in us and He cannot save us.  

Ralphie in the Christmas Story longed for Christmas because it held the promise of his greatest longing:  "an official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle!"

But the message of Christmas hold the promise of the longing in every human heart whether we know it or not: the promise of deliverance from sin and death, the promise of salvation and life eternal. That is the message of the Babe lying in the manger. As Pope Francis told us on Christmas Eve:
Like the shepherds of Bethlehem, may we too, with eyes full of amazement and wonder, gaze upon the Child Jesus, the Son of God. And in his presence may our hearts burst forth in prayer: 'Show us, Lord, your mercy, and grant us your salvation' (Ps 85:8)."

2 comments:

  1. No offense, Catholic in Broolyn, but where did you get that picture associated with the movie "A Christmas Story"? I know about fair use, but...

    ReplyDelete

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