“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John 1-18.
St. John’s Gospel begins with this powerful statement, “the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
Jesus’s birth calls all humanity to listen carefully to the merciful “Word of God” and know more fully that in Jesus, we are spiritual beings caring for, and forwarding the human experience of birth and new life.
The great Jesuit thinker, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, reflects: “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; rather, we are spiritual beings having a human experience.”
The birth of a child is a spiritual reality, and one that comes with growing pains, but also the possibility of religious life with an eternal promise.
The centuries have woven an abiding welcome for Jesus in our religious heritage, with our worship, music, and even when we complain about the exploitation of Christmas for commercial purposes, let me argue, it’s because we’re human.
We are spiritual beings having a human experience. Maybe in some small way, people find Christ even in the excesses of the Christmas and New Year holidays.
After all, it was not Macy’s that began the custom of gift-giving at Christmas; instead, it was the monks in medieval monasteries who established this custom.
On each of the days of the Advent “O Antiphons,” members of the religious community gave gifts to their fellow monks.
The gardener monk who grew the fruit trees provided jams, jellies, or dried fruits to his brother monks. The monk in charge of the wine cellar brought out the better vintage.
On Christmas Eve, the abbot himself provided funds from the abbey’s treasury and gave an extra amount of money to each of the monks, and in effect, created the tradition of the “Christmas bonus.”
All of these customs make way for Christ in our imagination.
By 1223, in the Italian village of Greccio, Saint Francis of Assisi constructed the first “crèche,” meaning a “cradle” or “crib” for the Christ child.
Francis’s idea was to encourage believers to enter more fully into the Nativity scene with Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, along with the shepherd boys, the Magi or Kings, the townspeople, as well as the barnyard creatures of Brother Ox and Sister Mule. All praised the God of creation and welcomed Jesus Christ.
Several years ago, I received this Christmas card from my dear friend and teacher, Monsignor James Turro. Reflecting on Christmas customs, he wrote:
Long years ago in Wales, it was a custom to unlock the gates and doors to one’s home on Christmas Eve. This was done to give the Holy Family welcoming access to one’s home.
Behind the folksy piety has a profound truth. Christ has indeed come to us on earth, bringing with him hope and comfort, but we must make an effort to admit him into our lives. His coming is like a crisp knock on the door — which demands to be answered.
A long time ago, this was very pointedly remarked by a 17th-century Franciscan mystic: though Christ a thousand times in Bethlehem be born and not within yourself, your soul will be forlorn.
Have we answered the call to come to the door to receive Christ? For him and all those in need, we say yes, to him and to the very promise of Christmas past, Christmas present, and Christmas yet to come.
Merry Christmas, and have a blessed new year!
Saint Perpetua, Lafayette, CA.
Here’s John Rutter’s “What Sweeter Music” sung by King’s College Cambridge: “What sweeter music can we bring than a carol, to sing. The birth of our heavenly king? Awake the voice! Awake the String!”