25 December 2013

Rejoice, Rejoice, Emmanuel, has come to thee oh Israel!

First of all, Merry Christmas!  Ok, now that that's out of the way, let's get down to business.  Today, there are feasts and gifts galore, and for some, there is time to reflect and recall the roots of this celebration.  (this moment of reflection is a gift in itself for those of us who are introverts)  Anyway, as I spent yesterday into today with family, I was struck by the diverse group of people gathered at my mom's house.  All of us gathered as family, some of us closer than others, but all somehow connected to each other, even if only by the chance that we were under one roof at this precise moment.  The same can be said of the millions gathered to celebrate and worship God's gift on this day.  Rich and poor alike, faithful and not so much, who gather to commemorate Love's taking on flesh.  This morning, as I sat in prayer and reflected on the readings, I was particularly struck by the Gospel of Matthew which is read at the Vigil of Christmas.  In the passage, there is a beautiful recitation of the genealogy of Jesus.  (beautiful but sometimes awful to hear, depending on who's doing the reading)  Either way, to sit and reflect on this list, one can all too easily glaze over the names and fast forward to the good stuff, especially when the Gospel writer begins to tell of the birth of Jesus, and the fulfillment of the prophecy.  In the entire passage, which spans a whopping 25 verses, there is one part that struck me in particular.  This is perhaps the most striking message this entire season, it is when Joseph receives the call to take Mary as his wife.  The passage goes on to speak of her as the bearer of the Savior, the one who "will save his people from their sins."  This is a powerful message in itself, and as we know, it is enough to convince Joseph, but there is more to this passage.  As I sat in church today and prayed before Mass, I was particularly struck by what this message means for us today.  Sure it's nice to celebrate Christmas, it's nice to give presents and to spend some time with family.   It's nice to live out the traditions of yore and to share in creating new ones, but there is something far more profound that takes place in the celebration we observe today.  As I thought about what this simple phrase states "He will save us from our sins,"  I kept reflecting about how this is made real in our world today.  Theologically, one can say that it is effected into reality through the changing of bread and wine into the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ, but that is too easy.  In a more human way, this phrase is made real (or should be made real) in our every day lives.  Beyond Christmas and New Years, and beyond the holidays that everyone recognizes as moments to pause and reflect, we are called to be people whose sins are forgiven.  But what does this mean, and to whom does this apply?  This past week, as I waited in an eternal and infernal line, I overheard two people making political commentary as the TV rambled on in the background,  These two folks had no problem in taking their cues from the different topics the talking heads on TV were referring to.  Inevitably,  the topic of Duck Dynasty and Phil Robertson came up.  When this happened, my ears perked up a bit more to see what these two commentators would contribute, to my joy, they took the bait and quickly proceeded to make their observations.  If nothing else, this back and forth between the TV and these two people would have been a bit of entertainment as the line progressed, but for some reason, their comments became a reminder of what we still need in our Christian lives.  Almost without fail, one of the two started with "I'm a Christian, but..."  The words that followed were evidence to me of the ignorance that permeates so much of who we are as people of faith.  In the end, lets just say that Christ was used as a justification for ignorance and intolerance.  Their words were enough to make me tune out, and slowly their number was called up and the lined moved on.  What struck me, however, was the fact that we are a people of faith, and as Christian, we are called upon to be a people whose lives have been inextricably changed by the crazy power of LOVE!  At its root, this is what we celebrate on Christmas, not the opportunity to show each other up with the fanciest gifts or the best feasts, but with the most love.  After all, it is Love that has taken on flesh and it is Love that has come to save us of our sins.  And while there are many of us who are still trying to become people of love, there are many more who take on the name of Love to justify and rationalize ignorance, hate and violence.  Whether we are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, or anything else, at a very primitive level, we are called to love.  It is love that has sparked creation and love which compels us in our faiths, but the moment when love is used as an excuse for hurting another human being, we are reverting back to becoming people of sin, people of death.  And so this is Christmas, a day in which we gather and sometimes have to put up with our weird family members, but more than that, I hope (perhaps naively) that this is a day of love, in which I recognize that I have been offered a new way of living, a new way of being Christian, one in which I, the leper, am approached and loved, one in which I, the leper, in turn love others because I have known love, one in which I, the leper, live out love as much as I can and become a witness to the redemptive power of love.   I pray and hope that this and every day is a day in which I, the leper, am not seen as someone to be cast out and pushed back, but received and loved, because it was upon me, the leper, the shepherd, and the world, that the star shone upon as it announced glad tidings, that unto me, the leper, a child was born in the town of Bethlehem.  A child who is my Savior, a child who is my love.  I pray, and I keep working at it myself, and who knows, maybe one day more and more of us will share love because we have been saved from our sins, by Love, Emmanuel, Christ! Either way, I pray that in my own journey, as clumsy as it may be, I may be a witness of love, even if it has to be with one person at a time,  I want to be a Christian who loves, not one who uses Christ to condemn.   As always, know that you are loved.  Merry Christmas.  RL

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