Engaging Faith | Thu, Dec 22, 2011
Reflections for the Christmas Season
December 25, 2011
Midnight: Isaiah 9:1-6: Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14
Dawn: Isaiah 62:11-12; Titus 3:4-7; Luke 2:15-20
During the Day: Isaiah 52:7-10; Hebrews 1:1-6; John 1:1-18
December 26: Feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr
December 26: Start of Kwanzaa
December 27: Feast of Saint John
December 28: Feast of the Holy Innocents
January 1, 2012: Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God
January 1, 2012: World Day of Prayer for Peace & New Year’s Day
Our hearts this Christmas are anxious and distressed because of the continuation in various parts of the world of war, social tensions, and the painful hardships in which so many people find themselves. We are all seeking an answer that will reassure us.
John Paul II, homily, December 24, 2001
Our Savior is born for all. We must proclaim this not only in words, but by our entire life, giving the world a witness of united, open communities where fraternity and forgiveness reign, along with acceptance and mutual service, truth, justice and love.
Benedict XVI, Urbi et Orbi Message, Christmas 2006
Why should there be rich people that have more than they need and poor who don’t have anything? God didn’t plan it that way. He planned for us to be equals. That’s why we have to build a society where everyone has the right to live a decent life.... Maybe it sounds like I have my head in the clouds. But I’ve heard about these astronauts in the United States who’ve gone into outer space. And I figure, hell, if these astronauts can get to the moon, then why can’t ordinary folks like us learn to share the earth?
- Elvia Alvarado, the Honduran Human Rights Advocate
Real blood was shed at this delivery, by a poor woman of peasant society far from home, laboring in childbirth for the first time. And it was holy.
Elizabeth Johnson CSJ, Truly Our Sister, 277
We should not serve the poor like they were Jesus. We should serve the poor because they are Jesus.
- Mother Teresa, In My Own Words
Wherever the dignity and rights of the human person are trampled upon; wherever the selfishness of individuals and groups prevails over the common good; wherever fratricidal hatred and the exploitation of man by man risk being taken for granted; wherever internecine conflicts divide ethnic and social groups and disrupt peaceful coexistence; wherever terrorism continues to strike; wherever the basics needed for survival are lacking; wherever an increasingly uncertain future is regarded with apprehension, even in affluent nations: in each of these places may the Light of Christmas shine forth and encourage all people to do their part in a spirit of authentic solidarity. If people look only to their own interests, our world will certainly fall apart.
Benedict XVI, Urbi et Orbi Message, Christmas 2008
Thoughts for your consideration
Christmas celebrates the birth of a child.
Christmas is a celebration of joy and life.
Our social teaching is about joy and life.
We affirm the value of all human life from conception to natural death.
We work to put an end to all those things which destroy life and the quality of life for all.
Christmas calls us to see things in a new way.
We are called to see the salvation of God in a homeless child rather than in wealth, consumption, power, honors, or status of any sort.
We are called to create a world based on the values of this child born in poverty.
The experience of Mary, Joseph and the child Jesus is analogous to the experience of many people who are poor and powerless today.
(1) Mary and Joseph are subject to the whims of the powerful as they have to travel to Bethlehem for the census. (2) The Holy Family is homeless when they arrive in Bethlehem. (3) They become refugees in Egypt to escape the danger of death in Israel. (4) As the child is born, most people are going on with their daily lives and do not recognize the presence of God. (5) Only the shepherds are able to detect the presence of God in the child that is born to a homeless family in a stable.
At Christmas time we encounter many temptations. There is the temptation to be sentimental. There is the temptation to get too involved in elaborate gift giving. There is the temptation to focus just on our small circle of family and friends. There is the temptation to make Christmas into a celebration of our prosperity. There is the temptation to impose too many expectations on this holiday and forget what we are celebrating.
The fact that Jesus was born poor and homeless calls us to be aware of these temptations. More than that, the details of Jesus’ birth challenges us to be engaged with those who are poor and powerless today – with those who are living the human experience of poverty or injustice.
We are invited to see how the experience of those in the Christmas story is not unlike the experience of millions of refugees and displaced people in our world today, of children born into poverty, of parents who are frustrated by their poverty as they desire to provide for their children, of agricultural workers who have no land of their own, of the poor or unemployed in the US who are losing their benefits, of the those who are homeless, of those who are caught up in the events of war and terrorist acts, of those who are still among the millions living in some form of slavery, of those denied basic human rights, of those whose lives are controlled by the power of large corporations and impersonal governments, of those who go on with their busy lives without any significant awareness of the presence and goodness of God in the ordinary things of life.
More Thoughts for your consideration
The commentator, Anna Quindlen, in the December 22, 2008 issue of Newsweek, wrote a piece called “Stuff Is Not Salvation.” [It can be found at http://www.newsweek.com/id/174265 .] She reflects on the recession that is gripping the world and writes about families who are not poor, but also are not focused on things or gifts.
…. there is a family like one I know in rural Pennsylvania, raising bees for honey (and for the science, and the fun, of it), digging a pond out of the downhill flow of the stream, with three kids who somehow, incredibly, don't spend six months of the year whining for the toy du jour. (The youngest once demurred when someone offered him another box on his birthday; "I already have a present," he said.) The mother of the household says having less means her family appreciates possessions more. "I can give you a story about every item, really," she says of what they own. In other words, what they have has meaning. And meaning, real meaning, is what we are always trying to possess. Ask people what they'd grab if their house were on fire, the way our national house is on fire right now. No one ever says it's the tricked-up microwave they got at Wal-Mart.
Think about the child who said “I already have a present.” What a different spirit from that of our culture! The salvation that we celebrate on Christmas is not a rejoicing in the stuff we possess or even the stuff we are able to give as gifts. Gifts can be important reminders of something more. However, the “ultimate symbol” is the birth of a child, God’s gift to us. The most important value is not in keeping more things for ourselves but in sharing what we have. Christmas is a celebration of community, life and joy. The angels in the gospel story in Luke say it very well: “And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”
In the mass at Midnight, we hear in the works of Isaiah: “For the yoke that burdened them, the pole on their shoulder, and the rod of their taskmaster you have smashed.” The values of the new born child smash the values of consumerism, greed, and fear.
Christmas calls us to see things in a new way. We are called to see the salvation of God in a homeless child rather than in wealth, consumption, power, honors, or status of any sort. We are called to create a world based on the values of this child.
We all need things, but we need something more than things. Anna Quindlen writes in the same article I quoted above:
Oh, there is still plenty of need. But it is for real things, things that matter: college tuition, prescription drugs, rent. Food pantries and soup kitchens all over the country have seen demand for their services soar. Homelessness, which had fallen in recent years, may rebound as people lose their jobs and their houses. For the first time this month, the number of people on food stamps will exceed the 30 million mark.
As we celebrate Christmas and the birth of the messiah, this story challenges us to look around us and to once again expect to find the messiah in our midst.
Questions for your Faith Sharing Community
In the US culture we experience certain temptations to distort the central message of Christmas. Which one do you experience most profoundly? How does this temptation affect you and your family?
When have you celebrated Christmas with “the poor”? What did you learn?
How is this Christmas different for you and your family because of the economy?
How is your celebration different or how do you see things differently?
Actions - Links
Jim Wallis of Sojourners recently wrote: “The Real War on Christmas ... by Fox News.” You can read it at http://sojo.net/blogs/2011/12/15/real-war-christmas-fox-news
Making sure that shopping malls and stores greet their customers with “Merry Christmas” is entirely irrelevant to the meaning of the Incarnation. In reality it is the consumer frenzy of Christmas shopping that is the real affront and threat to the season. Last year, Americans spent $450 billion on Christmas. Clean water for the whole world, including every poor person on the planet, would cost about $20 billion. Let’s just call that what it is: A material blasphemy of the Christmas season.
This year, Pax Christi International invites people to send stories of peace, to be used in Bethlehem, Palestine, and other locations in educational and religious settings. These stories are a sign of hope, and a gesture to these movements that people from outside the Middle East and North Africa care about their destiny. To participate go to http://www.paxchristi.net/international/foci/BETHLEHEM/bethlehem2011.php
To see the word 'Peace’ in different languages go to:
A few years ago, Brian McLaren, as chair of the board of Sojourners/Call to Renewal, wrote a short piece called “The Politics of Joy.” He reflects on some themes coming from some well-known Christmas songs. Read it at: http://sojo.net/blogs/2006/12/15/brian-mclaren-politics-joy
But how can there be political transformation in the external world of thorns, sins, and sorrow if our inner lives don't become the manger into which hope, healing, empowerment, love, and joy are born?
From the Global Issues web pages
Some 21,000 children die every day around the world.
That is equivalent to:
1 child dying every 4 seconds
14 children dying every minute
A 2011 Libya conflict-scale death toll every day
A 2010 Haiti earthquake occurring every 10 days
A 2004 Asian Tsunami occurring every 11 days
An Iraq-scale death toll every 19–46 days
Just under 7.6 million children dying every year
Some 92 million children dying between 2000 and 2010
The silent killers are poverty, hunger, easily preventable diseases and illnesses, and other related causes. Despite the scale of this daily/ongoing catastrophe, it rarely manages to achieve, much less sustain, prime-time, headline coverage.
Prayers of Intercession
Response: May the child lead us to peace.
For all who are living the experience of poverty, we pray….
For refugees and other displaced people, we pray….
For all our children, we pray….
For the elderly, we pray….
For those who are far from home, we pray….
For an end to the way of violence and war, we pray….
For peace and justice for all, we pray….
For genuine joy for all the people, we pray….
“Churches for Middle East Peace” has published A Christmas Prayer for the Peace of Jerusalem at http://www.cmep.org .
Like Jesus, we too are drawn to the City of David, the City of Peace. Help us, O God, as we resolve anew to pray and to work for the peace of Jerusalem. Give us the strength, the wisdom and the courage to pursue a pastoral and prophetic ministry. Enable us to be agents of reconciliation and hope in Jerusalem, in our own neighborhoods and throughout the world: through Jesus Christ our Lord.
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among others,
To make music in the heart.
Howard Thurman, African-American mystic
The following was written by Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s’ Defense Fund and can be found at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marian-wright-edelman/a-christmas-prayer-t...
As 2.1 billion Christians in our world prepare to celebrate the birth of the most famous poor baby in history, I hope they and all peoples will commit to helping all the poor babies in our rich nation and world find a place in our hearts and at our tables of plenty. At a time when the gap between rich and poor in our nation and the world is at its widest ever, an economic downturn driven by the greed of a few has jeopardized the lives and economic security of all of us. I hope we will all raise a mighty voice to reset our nation's moral and economic compass.
God help us to end poverty in our time.
The poverty of having a child with too little to eat and no place to sleep,
no air, sunlight and space to breathe, bask and grow.
The poverty of watching your child suffer and get sicker and sicker and not knowing
what to do or how to get help because you don't have a car or health insurance.
The poverty of working your fingers to the bone every day taking care of someone else's
children and neglecting your own, and still not being able to pay your bills.
The poverty of having a job that does not let you afford a stable place to live and being terrified
you'll become homeless and lose your children to foster care.
The poverty of losing your job because you cannot find reliable
child care or transportation to work.
The poverty of working all your life caring for others and having to start all over again
caring for the grandchildren you love.
The poverty of earning a college degree, having children, opening a child care center,
and taking home $300 a week or month if you're lucky.
The poverty of loneliness and isolation and alienation--having no one to call or visit, tell you
where to get help, assist you in getting it, or care if you're living or dead.
The poverty of having too much and sharing too little and having the burden of nothing to carry.
The poverty of convenient blindness and deafness and indifference to others,
of emptiness and enslavement to things, drugs, power, violence and fleeting fame.
The poverty of low aim and paltry purpose, weak will and tiny vision, big meetings and
small action, loud talk and sullen grudging service.
The poverty of believing in nothing, standing for nothing, sharing nothing,
sacrificing nothing, struggling for nothing.
The poverty of pride and ingratitude for God's gifts of life and children and family and freedom
and country and not wanting for others what you want for yourself.
The poverty of greed for more and more and more, ignoring, blaming and exploiting
the needy, and taking from the weak to please the strong.
The poverty of addiction to drugs, to drink, to work, to self, to the status quo and to injustice.
The poverty of fear that keeps you from doing the thing you think is right.
The poverty of despair and cynicism.
God help us end poverty in our time in all its faces and places, young and old, rural, urban,
suburban and small town too, and in every color of humans You have made everywhere.
God help us to end poverty in our time in all its guises--inside and out--physical and spiritual,
so that all our and Your children may live the lives that you intend.