These days for me – as for most of us – bring a flood of memories from the realms of our lives and Christmases past. I was thinking of my maternal grandparents a lot these days, and how we would always go there on Christmas Eve – usually in bad weather – and would proudly receive a new set of pajamas from our grandparents. One year it was really fancy and we received – the oldest three – desks! My grandfather was tall and a salesman for General Mills and later Bunn Capital in Springfield. My grandmother was short, and never in good health, and there are two things among many which I remember: her saying her prayers from her worn prayer book each morning, and then her watching of soap operas: “As the World turns” and “Days of Our Lives!” We all remember: “Like sands through the hour glass – these are the days of our lives!”
“The days of our lives” comes to us in another way tonight at this Midnight Mass: “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus.” St. Luke took great care to illustrate that this event of the birth of Christ was not just a story or a philosophy, but the birth of the Christ Child – the Savior happened in a definite time and place, where in a sense the world had been prepared for him! Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that: “The context of world history is important for Luke. For the first time ‘all the world’ is to be enrolled. For the first time there is a government and an empire that spans the globe. For the first time , there is a great expanse of peace in which everyone’s property can be registered and placed at the service of the wider community. Only now, there is a commonality of law and property on a large scale, and when a universal language has made it possible for a cultural community to trade in ideas and goods, only now can a message of universal salvation, a universal Saviour, enter the world: it is indeed the “fullness of time.”
“In those days” become our days, and once more, these days of our lives call us to stop, pause and reflect on our lives, our times and must reflect the reality of centuries ago, again which was said of the Emperor, but later of Christ, “Now all must change!”
What must change for us in these days that are ours?
- If we live in fear – once more the words often found in Luke: “Do not fear!”
- Where do we see the glory of God reflected to us?
- The shepherds carried the message. Can we do no less? “How many Christians make haste today, where the things of God are concerned? Surely if anything merits haste – so the evangelist is discreetly telling us, then it is the things of God”
- Can we live a watchful life, as the shepherds did, watchful for the presence of the Lord? The shepherds returned home with joy. How about us?
- The Angels sang, at the birth of Christ – glory to God. What song do we sing with our lives? “The glory of God is real, God is glorious, and this is truly a reason for joy: there is truth, there is goodness, there is beauty. It is there – in God – indestructibly.
- Do we believe that the light of Christ can cast out the darkness that we can live in at times?
- We are here this evening at the Eucharist. The narration of the birth of Christ reminds us that the manger points to the altar. “The manger becomes a reference to the table of God, to which we are invited to receive the Bread of God. From the poverty of Jesus’ birth emerges the miracle in which man’s redemption is mysteriously accomplished.”
Many cultures have novenas, or nine days of preparation for this holy night: such as Simbang Gabi or Posadas. The Posadas especially re-enacts the journey, the trip in hardship that Mary and Joseph had to face in their journey to Bethlehem – including rejection. How do we receive strangers, visitors and refugees whose lives intersect with ours, and who come to us, come to our country?
Finally, an English expression of what we believe this evening is that God “Pitched His tent among us”: a proclamation that God is not out there “watching us from a distance,” but has come to live among us, journey with us in all moments, and call us to Eternal Life.
Somehow, in some small way, and I have felt it again this year, this season – the time of the Incarnation – for all of its rush , activities, commercialization and all else that we tend to complain about, calls forth from the human spirit a generosity , hope and the best of the human heart to reach out, perhaps where it was not possible before. May this grace of the season motivate us to reach out, speak or reconcile in this God-given window of time where we can visibly sense indeed, He is among us – the Son of God is here! These are the days of our lives – in those days which are among us as well!
A blessed and Merry Christmas to all.
The Most Rev. Kevin W. Vann, Bishop of Orange