Tag Archives: Christmas

The Solemnity of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ

Today, March 25th, is the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, the beginning of Jesus’ life in the womb of Mary. The Angel Gabriel came to Nazareth and invited Mary to become the mother of Jesus, who would “save his people from their sins.””Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to your word,” Mary answered. On this day we celebrate the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us. (John 1)

Today’s an important holy day that’s celebrated by all the ancient Christian churches from earliest times. It has links to other feast days. Today we celebrate Jesus conceived in Mary’s womb. Nine months from now, December 25, her pregnancy will end; we will celebrate the birth of Jesus on the feast of Christmas. 

Some ancient church calendars also saw today, March 25th. as the day Jesus was crucified. The day, then, marks the beginning and the end of Jesus’ earthly life. 

I remember a PBS special “What Darwin Never Knew” produced awhile ago by Nova. I don’t remember or understand a lot of the scientific material it contained, but its description of DNAs and embryonic development caught my attention.

According to scientists, embryos from different living beings–humans, animals, birds, fish– appear remarkably alike at an early stage of development, as if they were from the same source. Then, something triggers a different development in each species. Humans sprout arms and legs and begin human development.  Other species develop in their own way.

It’s a complex, fascinating path all living things take in their embryonic development. All creatures are on the same journey of life. All creation is on a journey to life.

“The Word was made flesh.” The Word of God became flesh in Mary’s womb. Early theologians, like St. Irenaeus, said the Word became truly human. He went through the same process of development within the womb as we do. After his birth he continued to develop “in wisdom and age and grace” as humans do. He faithfully followed the path of human development. 

The early theologians also said Jesus Christ assumed all that he would redeem. He took on himself human nature, but he also became “flesh” and took on himself the created world.  In his early embryonic journey Jesus Christ brought all creation to himself to redeem it.

“Blessed is the fruit of your womb,” Elizabeth says to Mary.(Luke 1,42) The time Jesus was in her womb was blessed. Even then, the Word of God  promised redemption to another infant in the womb, Elizabeth’s son John, who leaped for joy in Elizabeth’s womb.  

The Feast of the Annunciation is a time to renew our respect for life, from its beginning to its end. It’s a time to remember Mary, the Mother of Jesus and her acceptance and her respect for the life in her womb. We pray for the grace she had, who said yes to bringing the Word of God into this world.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women ad blessed is the fruit of your womb Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death.”

Why December 25th?

Ever wonder why we celebrate December 25th as the day of Jesus’ birth? A popular theory  says December 25th was a Christian attempt to replace a pagan festival honoring the Unconquerable Sun. More likely, December 25 was chosen because it was tied to March 25th, the day some early Christian sources say Jesus was conceived and crucified.

Andrew McGowan advocates that theory in Biblical Archeology.

“ There is another way to account for the origins of Christmas on December 25: Strange as it may seem, the key to dating Jesus’ birth may lie in the dating of Jesus’ death at Passover. This view was first suggested to the modern world by French scholar Louis Duchesne in the early 20th century and fully developed by American Thomas Talley in more recent years. But they were certainly not the first to note a connection between the traditional date of Jesus’ death and his birth.

“Around 200 C.E. Tertullian of Carthage reported the calculation that the 14th of Nisan (the day of the crucifixion according to the Gospel of John) in the year Jesus died was equivalent to March 25 in the Roman (solar) calendar. March 25 is, of course, nine months before December 25; it was later recognized as the Feast of the Annunciation—the commemoration of Jesus’ conception. Thus, Jesus was believed to have been conceived and crucified on the same day of the year. Exactly nine months later, Jesus was born, on December 25.

Matthew’s gospel relates the massacre of the infants in Bethlehem by King Herod shortly after Jesus birth, reminding us of the fate awaiting this Child. Artists like the one who painted our picture above– which is honored by my community, the Passionists– also saw the connection.  Mary was warned that a “sword” would pierce her heart.

The mysteries of Christ are joined together. We celebrate his birth, but we also keep in mind his death and resurrection– mysteries  never far apart, in him and in us.

Still Wondering

 

We don’t stop wondering at the Christmas crib. Christmas is over for most people today. The tree’s taken down, decorations put away. But the Christmas mystery is too big for a one day celebration; that’s why the church prepares for this celebration through the four weeks of Advent and continues through the days of the Christmas season till the Feast of the Epiphany. Christmas Day may be over, but our celebration and reflection on the Christmas mystery is not over.

This mystery raises questions and has consequences, which the feasts that follow Christmas Day explore. Since ancient times churches of the east and west have celebrated the feast of Stephen, one of the first disciples of Jesus and the first to die giving witness to him. (Acts 6,8 ff) on December 26.

When Jesus was born “all who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds.” (Luke 2,18) But Stephen would be stoned to death when he told about the One who was sent. The message will not always be heard, yet still must be told. 

“The love that brought Christ from heaven to earth raised Stephen from earth to heaven,” St. Fulgentius says of the martyr Stephen.

December 28th is the feast of the Holy Innocents;  little children from Bethlehem put to death by Herod the Great so no rivals would challenge his power and throne. (Matthew 2, 13-18) When Jesus was born “all who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds.” (Luke 2,18) Yet Herod the Great heard the message and tried to end it. The birth of Jesus does not bring an end to evil in the world. The Child is born “for to die for poor orn’ry creatures like you and like I.”  

December 27th is the feast of St. John, the apostle. This is another feast celebrated along with the Christmas feast by all the churches of the east and west from earliest times. It explores the great question: Who is this Child born of Mary? Writings identified with John the Apostle– the 4th Gospel and letters–  are read at Mass on Christmas Day and days that follow the feast. 

Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary, is true God and true man, “the Word made flesh, the Word of God who made all things, dwells among us.”

Like the shepherds who watched in the darkness we need to keep our eyes on this sign of light:  “the infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” Like Mary, we need to keep reflecting on this mystery in our heart to appreciate what it means for the world and for us. Like Joseph we don’t stop wondering.

 

mary 10

 

December 24: The Dawn from On High

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The birth of John the Baptist. Luke’s gospel says, is closed connected to the birth of Jesus. today. We celebrate the two births as we draw near to Christmas.  Struck dumb by doubt,  John’s father Zechariah speaks again as he agrees to the child’s name. “John is his name.”

John Baptist birth

Artists often portray the birth of John in a room with midwives attending Elizabeth at his birth, but Luke’s gospel portrays Zechariah his father singing a song at his birth.. “In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us. For you, my child,  shall go before the Lord to prepare his way, by the forgiveness of sins”  He sees the birth of John in a larger perspective.

“The dawn from on high shall break upon us.” A new day can dawn in a spectacular way at times. I saw daybreak over New York City a few years ago from our house in Union City. Shortly before, the city was dark, then the day broke to bathe it in gold.  What promise daybreak holds!

These days, darkened by political unrest worldwide, poverty,  terrorism, racial problems and homelessness, we need grace from on high. Christmas comes at a good time.

Readings here.

O King of all nations and keystone of the church,  come and save us whom you formed from the dust.

Friday Thoughts: Pure Extra Virgin

by Howard Hain

william-dyce-the-garden-of-gethsemane-1860

William Dyce, “The Garden of Gethsemane”, 1860*


To your eyes a thousand years are like yesterday, come and gone, no more than a watch in the night.

—Psalm 90:4


.One good olive.

There are so many factors.

The altitude. The light. The soil. The temperature. The rainfall. The wind. The dew point and humidity. The age of the tree.

Then there are those factors that we can control: pruning, watering, fertilizing, fanning, netting, and wrapping chilly trees with burlap or fleece.

And of course there are those other factors, those that fall somewhere in-between, between our control and our complete lack thereof: most of these relate to the sneaky work of numerous little thieves—animals, birds, insects, and perhaps even fellow farmers or other hungry travelers who just happen to pass by.

But when all is said and done—when all the factors are poured into the olive equation, mixed-up well, and left to unify or settle out—the fruit that’s produced by the world’s most nostalgic, symbolic, and romantic of trees means very little (at least in digestive terms) if it’s simply left to shrivel up and fall to the ground.

———

Picking an olive is perhaps the highest part of the art.

———

When to do so? And toward what end?

If too early, great potential is squandered.

If too late, great taste is lost.

If indecisive, we might as well let nature enjoy it for the time being—for one way or another—God’s process will eventually return it to the earth.

———

And yet, we’re still not done, for even if the olive is picked at just the right time, from just the right tree—the one that has grown in all the right circumstances—when it comes to the culmination of olive production, all is moot if the precious fruit of the womb is never squeezed.

For no matter how good the olive, without applied pressure, there’s nothing left to be labeled “pure extra virgin”.


.But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a women…

—Galatians 4:4


 

* Gethsemane is the name of a garden on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. It appears in the Greek of the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Mark as Γεθσημανή (Gethsēmanē). The name is derived from the Aramaic ܓܕܣܡܢ (Gaḏ-Šmānê), meaning “oil press”.

 

(Dec/23/2016)

 

Broken Baby Jesus

by Howard Hain

(Note: This post was originally published on December 24, 2011.)

broken-baby-christ-2-1


We have not put up a tree in years.

For nearly a decade we have been moving—no longer than two years in any one house and no less than ten different not-so-humble abodes. Between and during the moves we were very much engaged with the world. A seemingly endless movable beast.

This December marks one year in our current house. I am happy to say it is our home. The Lord has blessed us with great peace. And with that peace comes a tree. A simple, well-shaped tree. Fittingly, a dear friend offered it to us as a gift.

Francesca could not be more ready to be initiated into the act of trimming. Before the tree arrived, her two-year-old fingers pointed out every tree, artificial or real, that graced the pages of a holiday flyer or the commercial floor of a Rite Aid or Dollar Store.

Up the stairs came the evergreen, into the old stand that has been in storage since my father last used it several decades ago. I cut off the mesh and out popped the branches.

We hung the lights and old glass ornaments that my mother-in-law washed a few days before.

The main attraction for Francesca was the Nativity.

Not since St. Francis of Assisi assembled the first Nativity in Greccio in 1223, has there been such admiration for each and every witness who Our Lord assembled to adore His Son that first Christmas two millennia ago. Francesca kissed and hugged every shepherd, sheep, donkey, angel, and king. Most of all she adored the Holy family, calling Mary and Joseph, Ma-ma and Da-da, respectively. And Jesus, He was simply called: “ba-be.”

She carried them around the apartment. I did not want to ruin her fun, but they are ceramic. I explained a few times to be very careful.

“Gentle, Francesca…gentle…”, I harked a host of times.

Boom. To the wood floor went the shepherd. Amazing, grace held him intact. I took that as a great sign to put an end to her carrying the animals, angels and representatives of mankind.

I was fixing my coffee when I turned to see Francesca with Baby Jesus in her tiny hands. But He is so small, so tiny, what harm could come from holding Him? So I let her get away with carrying the Savior.

As I stirred my spoon Christ crashed to the floor, the tile floor. Francesca immediately looked at me, as if expecting all hell to break loose. I think I sighed but that was about all. It is Christmas, right? And it is, after all, only a ceramic figure purchased at Target.

After assuring Francesca not to worry and guiding her toward a few coloring books in the living room, I bent down to retrieve the broken Christ.

———

St. Francis was told by a Crucifix in an old abandoned chapel: “Restore my Church.”

In my small one-bedroom apartment, I found Baby Christ, broken into exactly three: The Head, the Torso, and the Crossed Legs.

“Restore the Trinity,” was spoken to me.

———

For half of my forty years I can honestly say I have tried to pursue Truth, wherever it lie. In philosophy, in scripture, in literature, in art, in nature, in history…

Now, the entire Gospel of Christ lie naked on my kitchen floor.

We separate, we distinguish, we categorize, we breakdown. The Fall of Adam was a fall into denomination.

Christ’s body is One. His Church cannot be broken. Only mere men can get things so wrong.

I think of the great “Angelic Doctor” of the Church, St. Thomas Aquinas, who after spending a lifetime in unparalleled pursuit of human understanding, said after glimpsing a vision of what Our Lord has in store for those who love God:

“All that I have written seems like straw compared to what has now been revealed to me.”

Yes… “straw”…my brother Thomas…merely straw. Straw that lines the manger within which Our Savior is laid bare.

———

It is tradition to leave the crib empty until Christmas morning. Only then do we place the figurative baby Jesus into the scene, after all until that moment he was not yet brought forth from Mother Mary’s womb.

This Christmas morning I will glue together a Broken Baby Christ. The Head, the Torso, and the Crossed Legs will again be One.

Like the world after the birth of Christ, I will never be the same.

For what has now been revealed to me, no fall can break apart.


 

Howard Hain is a contemplative layman, husband, and father. He blogs at http://www.howardhain.com

 

Morning Thoughts: Little Drummer Boys and Girls

by Howard Hain

Yesterday I witnessed a “dress” rehearsal for a live nativity. The cast was made up of first and second graders, and the audience was mostly composed of residents of a retirement home for religious sisters, Franciscans. It was spectacular.

Last week I was at Radio City Music Hall to watch the Rockettes in their “Christmas Spectacular”. It was quite a production.

Sitting in the dark this morning I cannot help but contrast the two.

I also cannot help but relate to the seven-year old who played the part of The Little Drummer Boy.

As that child walked so slowly toward the foot of the altar, where the rehearsal was being staged, I saw my vocation in an entirely different light.

The children were all singing their hearts out, and many of the eighty and ninety year-old sisters were mouthing the words. The boy with the drum didn’t utter a sound. He just kept walking, slowly, extremely slowly toward the altar, every once in a while ever so slightly pretending to tap two tiny sticks upon a toy drum. He was beautifully awkward.

There was no greater spectacle on earth at that very moment. Shall I dare to say, no greater event that heaven or earth has ever known?

For a child was born. We were all being born.


Come they told me, pa rum pum pum pum
A new born King to see, pa rum pum pum pum
Our finest gifts we bring, pa rum pum pum pum
To lay before the King, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

So to honor Him, pa rum pum pum pum,
When we come.

Little Baby, pa rum pum pum pum
I am a poor boy too, pa rum pum pum pum
I have no gift to bring, pa rum pum pum pum
That’s fit to give the King, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

Shall I play for you, pa rum pum pum pum,
On my drum?

Mary nodded, pa rum pum pum pum
The ox and lamb kept time, pa rum pum pum pum
I played my drum for Him, pa rum pum pum pum
I played my best for Him, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

Then He smiled at me, pa rum pum pum pum
Me and my drum.*


.

.*(Little Drummer Boy was composed by Katherine K. Davis, Henry Onorati and Harry Simeone in 1958.)