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Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Fr. Bob Warren's Week Reflection on Christmas

Franciscan Friars
Father Bob's Reflection on Christmas
If we were asked to explain Christmas, we would probably have to think for a while, then we would say something about Jesus being born in Bethlehem. Perhaps the best explanation of what Christmas is all about is given by St. Paul, in the briefest, simplest form. "He was rich. He became poor for your sake." He goes on, "Though He was in the form of God, He did not deem equality with God as something to be grasped at, rather He emptied Himself and took the form of a slave being born into the likeness of men." At one point in history, at one place on earth, He made himself known to us in a form that we could grasp.
If there were no Christmas, our idea of God might be a God of power and might. A God who only revealed himself in suns and star systems. He would be a remote God, never intimately near, never close by. It is true there is a revelation of God in nature, but often nature conceals as much as she reveals. A writer once wrote how he had spent the day in the Canadian Rockies. The scenery was so magnificent that he could not put it into words. So majestic that it was indescribable, but he said he felt very small and insignificant. When he returned home, his wife welcomed him with a kiss. His children gave him a big hug. Then he knew what had bothered him about his day on the mountain. Yes, he had felt God in nature, but he had wanted something more. Amidst all that grandeur, he had wanted a touch. He had wanted to be noticed. He had wanted some human contact. That is what the incarnation means. That is what the birth of Christ is all about.
The glory of God comes into our human nature, and it speaks to us within intimacy which it is not within the power of sea or sky or mountain to convey. In Jesus Christ, God is made clear and concrete. He is made available so that we can grasp Him when we fall; bow before Him when we want to adore; kneel to Him when we want to pray; live in communion with Him.
Jesus became poor for our sake. Born in a borrowed barn, His teaching and preaching was done on foot. If a feast had been set before Him, it was in another's house. He had no home of His own. When He died, He was buried in the tomb of another. He laid aside His omnipotence, Creator of all, He became like one of His creatures.
There is all through the bible a kind of Cinderella theme in the story of God's dealing with us. Again and again, it is the lowly and despised, the unlikely and insignificant people, from whom light and salvation come. And so it is with the Christmas story. A teenage girl living in a small corner of the world is told that she is to be the mother of God. Then we have shepherds, not as the painters and poets have idealized them, but rough, uncultivated, boorish and despised as outcasts. But it was to them the angels came. These men who were looked upon as sinners and outcasts by the religious establishment, only they had their ears attuned to the music of the angels singing "Glory to God in the Highest and on Earth Peace." And as St. Paul tells us, it was for your sake that this all happened, the self-emptying God.
It meant a laying aside of glory. A voluntary restraint of power. Acceptance of hardship. Isolation. Ill treatment. Malice and misunderstanding. All for your sake, that by His poverty you might become rich.
Because of Mary, Bethlehem was a place of birth, but each heart is a Bethlehem, is a place of birth. And each heart can be a Calvary, a place of death. It's up to you whether your heart is a place of birth or death, whether you allow God to come to you and live in you. You have the free will to accept God or reject him.
What then is the purpose of Christmas? What was Christ's own Christmas dream? Simply this. Christ was born to bear other Christs. Christmas is meaningless, unless it means not merely God in a stable, but God in a heart. In your heart.
Christmas is the birth of the Son of God on Earth and yet only the first Christmas took place in a stable. Every Christmas since then has taken place in human hearts. Only the first Christmas recorded the birth of Christ in Bethlehem. Every Christmas since then is significant in so far as it records the birth or the rebirth of Christ in us.
St. John tells us the word was made flesh. That line takes the human beauty of the Christmas story and links it with the Divine, it puts God in the straw, and the hands that hold Him are those of a human who is the mother of God, and caroling angels are the servants of the Child. And the shepherds were made by Him. The Christmas star is His toy, and He alone is true King. We can see our God in a child because the word was made flesh and dwelt among us.
The birth of Jesus is not only an event which happened in the past at a certain time and place. It is also an experience which is capable of unlimited repetition. It we want to carry the spirit of Christmas into the whole year, then Christ must be born anew in us, that we may say with the Apostle Paul, "It is not I that live, but it is Christ that lives in me, then there will be peace on earth and peace in our hearts.
Fr. Robert Warren
Yours in Christ,
Fr. Robert Warren Signature
Fr. Robert Warren, S.A.
Spiritual Director
Franciscan Friars
Franciscan Friars of the Atonement
GRAYMOOR P.O. Box 301, Garrison, NY 10524
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