December 19, 2008

Seeking the Face of the Lord

‘Do not be afraid!’ is message that rings loud and clear this Christmas

One of the beautiful things about the Sacred Scriptures is that so often ancient and familiar texts seem so new and so especially timely.

As I reflect on the scriptural readings assigned to the Christmas midnight Mass, this year they seem to be pertinent to our time like no other in recent memory.

From the prophet Isaiah, we read: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone. You have brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing, as they rejoice before you as at the harvest …” (Is 9:1-2).

This year, our celebration of Christmas takes place in uncertain times, economically and socially. It comes during a time of transition in our government leadership. Transitions in political institutions come with new expectations and hopes while also generating feelings of insecurity.

Our second Christmas reading is from St. Paul’s letter to Titus. We read: “Beloved: the grace of God has appeared, saving all and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly and devoutly in this age as we await the blessed hope, the appearance of the glory of our great God and savior Jesus Christ …” (Ti 2:11-13).

As the people of Christian faith who believe that God is the Creator and origin of all good things and that Jesus is the Son of God, we have some concern that godless ways in our times follow upon a secularist movement that sidelines God in the public arena.

The timeliness of the scriptural message this Christmas calls us to be awake to the effects of a culture that proposes material values as the supreme goal of human life.

To live justly in our day is to recognize the human dignity and the natural rights of all human life, including unborn human life and the entire spectrum up to and including natural death.

St. Paul’s message to live temperately is surely timely in these uncertain economic times. He encourages us to live devoutly, that is, as people who live what they believe as dedicated Christians.

The Gospel for midnight Mass has especially realistic characteristics. The call to the citizens in Palestine to register in the tax rolls, and the fact that Joseph and Mary went from Nazareth in Galilee down to Bethlehem in Judea to comply with the law, is ironic. What an interesting context in which Jesus, the Savior of the world, would be born.

In these days, as we hear about the housing crisis, the fact that Joseph and Mary could not find a room in an inn for the birth of the Savior of the world strikes an especially dramatic chord.

Jesus was to be born of homeless parents in a barnyard cave. Mary wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger. Sadly, these days too many of our own people know the threat and the reality of being homeless. May there be some small consolation for them in the thought that they are in awesome company.

The announcement of the birth of the Savior of the world was first made to poor shepherds in the fields of Bethlehem. The angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them. It is no surprise to hear that they were struck with great fear.

But here is the message that comes down to us through the ages: And “the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid …’ ” (Lk 2:10).

The angel Gabriel had given the same message to Mary at the announcement that she was to be the mother of the Savior. The same message, “Be not afraid …” was given to Joseph more than once as he became the foster father of the Savior of the world.

“Do not be afraid!” It is the message that comes down to us and rings loud and clear this Christmas. It rings loud and true as a message of hope and joy no matter what the circumstances may be in which we live.

It is a message of hope because “in the city of David a savior has been born for us … a savior who is Christ the Lord. And in the heavens on this Christmas night a multitude of the heavenly host continue praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest and peace to those on whom his favor rests’ ” (Lk 2:11-14).

Do not be afraid. We are a people of unwavering hope because we are the people on whom God’s favor rests.

After all is said and done, nothing else matters. And so we too continue to sing Glory to God in the highest. And we pray for peace for all of us on whom his favor rests.

Have a hope-filled Christmas! †

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