Monday, December 25, 2023

Between the Holiday & the Feast

The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ

(Mass During the Day)

Readings: Isaiah 52: 7-10; Psalm 97 (98): 1-6; Hebrews 1: 1-6; John 1:1-18

Picture: By Emmanuel Bior on Unsplash

My dear friends, have you ever come across someone who may be facing a serious health issue, but refuses to consult a doctor? What about a boss who chooses to close one eye, even though there’s reason to suspect some hanky-panky going on at work? Perhaps, like me, you’ve even been tempted to do the same. Why do we do this? Why not find out for sure what exactly is going on, and face it head-on? Isn’t it because not knowing often feels better than knowing? As they say, ignorance is bliss. And isn’t it especially tempting to indulge in the bliss of ignorance this Christmas? When the headlines are filled with so much troubling news. Why not take a break from all that, if only for a couple of days? After all, isn’t Christmas a holiday? A time for us to relax, to let our hair down, and to engage in joyous celebration.

It’s true, of course. Christmas is a holiday. But for us Christians, it’s not just that. It’s also a solemn feast. And the joy the feast brings is actually quite different from the blissful ignorance of the holiday. Sort of like how meeting someone face-to-face is very different from gazing at an image in which all the flaws have been carefully edited out. Isn’t this what we find in our scriptures today? Why are the people in the first reading told to rejoice? It’s not because they’ve somehow managed to forget their sufferings. Rather, it’s because they see clear signs that God has not forgotten them. That God is coming to console them, and to save them.

And the second reading tells us that what is true for the people in exile, has always been true for the Hebrews. Down through the ages, despite their infidelity, God has continually been speaking to them, reaching out to them, lovingly and mercifully accompanying them. Culminating in the sending of God’s own Son, whom the gospel tells us is the eternal Word, through whom all things were created. This divine Word, who is nearest the Father’s heart, has come among us in the flesh. So that we are all now forever inscribed on God’s heart. Impossible to be forgotten. All of us, regardless of gender or age, colour or creed. And it’s when we realise how close God is to us, particularly when we feel helpless, that joy is born in our hearts. Joy springing not from ignorance, but from a deep appreciation of God’s solidarity with us.

Which is not to say that we shouldn’t take a break over Christmas, to relax and to have fun. Many of us badly need to, don’t we? Just as we also need to make time, over the next couple of weeks, to quietly contemplate the tiny helpless baby in the manger. To bring our sufferings and those of the world to him. Asking him to strengthen us in faith and hope and charity. To help us see that we are not alone. And to move us to somehow express our solidarity with others who suffer, if not in material assistance, then at least in prayer.

Sisters and brothers, as tempting as it may be to indulge in blissful ignorance, how might we help one another to immerse ourselves ever more deeply in the joy of God’s solidarity this Christmas?

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