This Christmas, pause to reflect

Listen to mp3 file
The Nativity of the Lord (Christmas): Dec. 25, 2012
Mass during the Day
Isa 52:7-10; Ps 98:1-6; Heb 1:1-6; John 1:1-5, 9-14

There is a man who tells the story of when he was growing up, many years ago. His mother played the piano at their church, for over thirty years; and she tried to teach him to play the piano as well. He wasn’t very good at it, or very interested, but she tried. She taught him about scales, and major and minor keys. And one day she told him that the best news in the world could be found by playing a simple scale on the piano. What could she possibly mean? She told him to play an 8-note scale. He did. No, she said, you played it wrong; you need to play it from high to low. So he did. How was that good news? Well, she said, you played it right, but you left out the pauses: you need to pause on the first, second, fourth, sixth, seventh, and last notes. Well, at that point the restless boy’s patience had run out. He walked away from the piano and moved on with the journey of the many events of his life.

And that’s a journey that we all know quite well.

You have been walking your journey, too; and how wonderful that you have paused here, at St. Bartholomew’s, for Mass on this Christmas Day!

We have been on a journey too, ever since we began Christmas Eve yesterday afternoon. This is the last of seven Masses! And our Scripture readings have taken us through the journey of that first Christmas.

  • At the Vigil Masses last night, we heard about how the angel reassured St. Joseph that the child in the womb of his betrothed, the Virgin Mary, had been conceived through the Holy Spirit, and that he should not be afraid to take Mary as his wife.
  • Then at Midnight, we heard about how they had to journey to Bethlehem in the final days of her pregnancy. And there was no room for them in the inn, and when she gave birth to her firstborn son, Jesus, they had to lay him in a manger. And we heard about how an angel appeared to shepherds in the fields nearby and told them about how they could find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes, who is Christ and Lord.
  • Then at Dawn today, we heard about how the shepherds followed the angel’s instructions and found the baby just as they had been told. And then they left, praising God; and Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.

And so the scene is complete; every one of our figures is present: St. Joseph, the Virgin Mary, the baby Jesus, the shepherds, the angel. What more is there to do? Well, like the Virgin Mary, we reflect; like her, we meditate upon what we have seen and heard, and seek to understand it better. In the words of the Christmas carol, we ask: “What child is this, who, laid to rest on Mary’s lap, is sleeping?” Who is this? What is it that has happened here? What implications does it have for how we understand our world, and how we live our lives?

And so our Gospel reading at this Mass comes from the beginning of the Gospel according to St. John. Now, something interesting about this Gospel is that St. John, if you remember, was standing alongside the cross, when Jesus was dying upon it; and the Virgin Mary was there too. And Jesus said to Mary, “Woman, behold, your son,” and to John, “Behold, your mother.”  And from that hour he took her into his home. (John 19:26-27) For the rest of Mary’s earthly life, she lived with St. John. And so it has struck me that, when we hear the truths he unfolds in his Gospel through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, it may be the voice of the Virgin Mary that we are hearing.

And what is it that we hear? In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. What child is this? Where did he come from? He is the son of Mary, and on Christmas he was born from her womb. But there is more to the story than that. He had a history before he became Mary’s son; and when he was born of her, it was his second birth.

For he is God the Son, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity—which is the truth revealed to us that there are three Divine Persons in one God, one divine nature. From all eternity, he has been begotten of God the Father, born of the Father before all ages; God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God; consubstantial, that is, of the same nature, as the Father. Together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, he is almighty, infinite, eternal, of limitless knowledge and goodness and love. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.

And then, in the fullness of time, out of love for each of us and his whole creation, he emptied himself. For us men and for our salvation, he came down from heaven. He took on our human nature and became one with us, in the womb of the Virgin Mary; born as a baby on Christmas Day. What child is this? True God and true man, Emmanuel, God-with-us, our Lord and Savior.

What are the implications of this? Let us pause to reflect a moment with the Virgin Mary and consider three.

First, pause to consider the sheer power for healing that our Lord Jesus brings to us. In the beginning he made the world; and in his love he has come to remake it. He is the light of the human race, and he has come into our darkness; and the darkness has not overcome him. He has the power to aid us in any difficulty; to transform us, from any sin or weakness; to free us, from anything that holds us captive. And he is unique in this: no other leader or religious founder or philosopher, however good or insightful they might be, is the Only Begotten Son of God that our Lord Jesus is.

Second, pause to consider the touching love that our Lord Jesus showed in becoming man. As one song (“How Many Kings,” by Downhere) put it, “How many kings step down from their thrones? … How many greats have become the least for me?” The depth of love is shown in his self-giving, holding nothing back, lowering himself all the way to death on a cross for our sake. Our Lord made himself vulnerable: as a baby, helpless, offering himself to be held in our arms; as a man, nailed to the cross for our sins. He came to his own; and so many have chosen not to accept him. He poured himself out in love; and so many have simply rejected him.

Third, pause to consider the transformation that he offers to each of us. St. Athanasius said back in the 4th century, “God became man so that man might become God.” The Son took on our human nature, and offers us a share in his own divine nature. So when we pause and ask ourselves, “What child is this,” and answer it, then we also discover, as in a sort of mirror, what he wants to make us, through divine adoption. For to those who do accept him he gives power to become children of God.

This then is what we discover when we pause with the Virgin Mary: the truth, the power, the love, that is right here, beneath the surface, of this beautiful Nativity scene. And even though these figures will be packed away in a few weeks, may we not turn away from this Savior who offers himself to us. May we choose to accept him, and pause each week and even each day in his presence, and allow him to remake us more and more as adopted sons and daughters of God, on our journey through life.

That man who did not learn much piano as a boy from his mother: many years later, his mother had passed on, and he missed her. But somehow he always remembered what she had told him about the good news to be found in a scale on the piano. And one day he finally sat down again at a piano, and played it, this time with the pauses, on the first, second, fourth, sixth, seventh, and last notes. It is the first line of a Christmas carol: “Joy to the world, the Lord is come!” The best news in the world: and it changed his life. (Story from this video by Igniter Media)

And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only begotten Son, full of grace and truth.

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