Monday, December 22, 2008

What Christmas is all about.

Charles M. Schultz provided an answer in that Christmas classic, A Charlie Brown Christmas.

It's refreshing to hear the the Gospel of Luke amid all that commercialism. Indeed, since it was first produced in 1965 and well before, commercialization of Christmas has been seen a threat to the core message of the Gospel.

For instance, with all the hype, some people might think that Christmas is the most important holiday on the Christian calendar. It's not. Some may think that the birth of Jesus represented some sort of beginning for Jesus. It's true that the nativity of Jesus is a sort of beginning, but it's not the beginning of Jesus' material life. Rather, the beginning of Jesus' material life was at the moment of conception.

It might be a teaching moment. Some pro-abortion wags point out that birth has always been the marker of choice for the new person. How terrible they say, to make the time of conception the legal moment of personhood. They point out the frightful problems of managing all the paperwork for those conceived, and they have a technical point while studiously ignoring the forest for the trees.

For most human beings, with the exception of those more recent test-tube babies or IVF babies, it's been frightfully difficult to determine the moment of conception. A certain number of parents can pick out the particular sex act which was the cause of conception, yet still, the moment of conjugal love is not quite the moment of conception; they are two different events separated by time.

Unique for ancient times, however, there was one moment of conception that was known. It was the moment of the Annunciation, when the Angel Gabriel announced to Mary, that she was chosen by God to bear the Christ child. In that moment, Mary gave her consent, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word" (Luke 1:38). In that moment, Mary's "yes" contradicted Eve's "no," and the Incarnation, the Son of God took on human flesh and entered into the material world.

As Mark Shea points out, it was the moment of Incarnation which was important to those early Christians. They thought that March 25 was the date of the first Good Friday, the Crucifixion, and it only made sense to them that March 25 also be the moment of the Incarnation and Annunciation. As even the most primitive humans know, a mother typically bears a child nine months from the moment of conception to the moment of birth. And so that's why Christmas falls on December 25.

But until birth, every mother-child relationship is predominantly a private relationship. The child listens to the mother's heart beat, and the mother feels her child's squirming and kicking. But at birth, a rite of passage for every human being's life, the gift of child is revealed to the entire world.

And so it was for the Christ child. For nine months, Jesus Christ, the Eternal Word, was known only to Mary, the living tabernacle, the Ark of the New Covenant. On the day of Christ's birth, the private revelation (*) became a public one. On this day, the Eternal Word made of flesh left the living tabernacle made of flesh. To the whole world, the Christ is now visible.

There are several Eucharistic themes found at his birth. Jesus, known as the Bread of Life, is born in the City of David, Bethlehem, which means "house of bread." Jesus was "laid in a manger" (Luke 2:7). A manger is a feed trough for livestock. The root of the word manger comes from the Latin word to eat. Of course, we were meant to eat the Bread of Life. And finally, the angels first revealed the birth of Jesus to local shepherds. Jesus often compared his ministry to that as a shepherd over his flock, but most significantly, Lamb of God has a Passover allusion. The bread and wine of Passover have become the Eucharistic Bread and Wine of the New Passover. As the Lamb of God, the Passover meal, according to the reckoning of the Jews of the time, ended on the same day as the Last Supper (or Passover meal). That is, days were reckoned from sunset to sunset. On the cross, Christ cries out, "It is finished" (John 19:30). The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. The Lamb of God who is the Bread of Life. It is a joyful mystery. :-)

So of course, let's not forget the Christ in Christmas, but also let us not forget the Mass in Christmas.

And so like all the angels in Heaven, as the story goes, let us sing in praise,

"Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests" (Luke 2:14).

And that's what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown.

(*) Note: in the Catholic world, private revelation and public revelation are technical terms. Public revelation ended in the Apostolic era, and public revelation is always the standard at which private revelation, such as the apparition of Mary at Lourdes, will be judged against. In my paragraph above, I do not mean to use private and public revelation in that technical sense. Rather, Jesus was privately known to Mary, his mother, and to Joseph, his stepfather, but Jesus had not yet been made public to the open world.


At 12/22/08, 9:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very well put, Bob. Have a very merry Christmas. I most especially liked the history of why the ancients chose March 25th as Good Friday. Would Good Friday then be the most important holy day or would Easter? hmm.


At 12/22/08, 11:07 PM, Blogger Bob said...

Thank you for your comment, Erin.

As you've rightly pointed out, Easter is the highest holy day on the Christian calendar. However, there is no Resurrection without the Crucifixion. No Easter without Good Friday.

So March 25 to March 25 marks Jesus' life to death.

But Easter is a hope to be realized. Jesus has defeated death. He is the first-born of a new creation. In baptism, we follow Jesus into death and into new life. We are reborn.

Easter is the reason to be Catholic. Every Sunday is a little Easter. We are so blessed!

At 12/23/08, 9:14 AM, Blogger Becky said...

To continue on what Bob said, "Every Sunday is a little Easter:"

Just as every Sunday we celebrate the resurrection, every Friday we celebrate the crucefixion. If we don't abstain from meat, we're required to sacrifice something else. Good Friday and Easter go hand-in-hand. You can't have one without the other; one completes the other.

At 12/25/08, 5:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It always amazes me, scripture has so many levels of meaning within a passage and connections between passages. Very nicely analyzed, Bob. Christ is born, Alleluia!!

:) Christina


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