Have a blessed Solemnity of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ!This “Missa Nativitatis Domini” (ZWV 8) by Jan Dismas Zelenka is a lovely baroque Mass setting composed by the Bohemian master. The video embedded below is of a performance by Musica Florea, conducted by Marek Štryncl.
There is also the classic and timeless Christmas Oratorio by J.S. Bach.
The classic Messiah by Georg Friederich Handel:
Isn’t it something this trend we have recently been experiencing: in our society Christmas seems to begin the day after Thanksgiving. Actually this year it seemed to begin almost even before Thanksgiving. We are immersed in one battle after another: the traffic, the lines in the stores, the amount of gifts we feel pressured to purchase, the parties we attend. There is a lot of stress to have the “perfect Christmas”. Yet, I could almost bet you a million dollars that by supper time on Christmas day someone here will already see a tree tossed to the gutter. The radio stations that had been previously been playing Christmas music non stop will immediately return to their regular tunes. There will be no more mention of Christmas and life will return to its usual pace. Our streets will no longer be lit by those lights strung over houses and bushes.
Now lets contrast this with what the Church lives: we experience Advent, which is a time of preparation and prayer. There is a certain quiet, focused preparation. Many people came to confession, and souls were reconciled with our Lord. This is a time to really begin to get ready for the great solemnity of Christmas. Christmas then doesn’t end on Christmas day, but it begins! There is too much joy in this day to simply jump into it unprepared, and there is too much joy to simply end it like a sparkler that burns out just as soon as it is lit. We begin today the octave–eight days–of Christmas day! The same prayers are prayed everyday because it is too much to simply end.
Is this not also a reflection of a deeper reality? The culture, the society, the world that seeks to live without God proposes a certain way of life to us. The bigger, the louder, the more excitement, the more pleasure, the more emotional high, the less work required–the better! No need to convert, no need to prepare! Carpe diem, sieze the day! Yet at the end, just as the worldly “Christmas” season that gets tossed to the curb and forgotten, so too for us if we allow this kind of mentality to affect us. The party will end pretty quickly. Extending this understanding, if Christmas is too great to simply end, that is the call from God to experience the joy of eternity with Him. Our lives now are an “advent” to prepare.
In the Gospel for the mass at night, we hear something very profound, almost sad: “there was no room for them in the inn”. Is there room for Christ in our lives, or have we allowed ourselves to become so busy and filled up with technology, entertainment, sports, being popular, etc., to allow him room? Have these things become barriers, preventing us from coming to Mass? From having a life of prayer? It seems the faster we move, the more efficient we become, the less time we have. Do we give him room in our moral decisions, or do we not allow Him to be present there in the deepest and most personal aspects of our lives? Does God have a place in our thinking?
“Not even in our feelings and desires is there any room for him. We want ourselves. We want what we can seize hold of, we want happiness that is within our reach, we want our plans and purposes to succeed. We are so “full” of ourselves that there is no room left for God. And that means there is no room for others either, for children, for the poor, for the stranger” (Benedict XVI, Homily, 24 Dec 2012).
How does God enter the scene? If we look to the society as a guide, we would think He appears in the loud, the gaudy, the entertaining. Well, if we look to the Gospel the Angels provide a clue: “you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” In other words, nothing will appear to be outside of the ordinary. The second person of the Blessed Trinity, God Himself, has taken on human flesh and how does he make His entrance into the world? In a feed trough, wrapped to stay warm. God comes to us at every Mass. Certainly we experience Christmas every Sunday, and everyday there is Mass. Knowing the deep joy and peace that Christmas brings us–just think of how the world does seem to stop at this solemn time–who would not want this great gift that God wants to bring everyday into our hearts? It is almost as if God wants us to come looking for Him!
Christmas is not simply a cultural experience. It is not simply something “we have always done”, and it certainly does not end on December 25th. For the world, this is the view. Many try to divorce Christmas from the Christ child, or even from going to Mass, which is of course the origin of the word! Yet, Christmas is a deep reminder to you and me of God’s desire to be with us. Christmas is certainly the celebration of a babe born in Bethlehem–truly God. Yet, it also reminds us: God wants to encounter each of us. This is no ordinary baby. Right now, and at the end of our lives, if we have been living the worldly party, that is, with no life of prayer, and not allowing room for Christ in our lives, the party will be over just as quickly. We should keep the image of the Christmas tree on the curb on Christmas day in our minds. No more will the expensive distractions or the constant efficiency hold any meaning to us as we go to our final encounter with Christ, who appears to us now as a babe, but who is truly the sovereign king of all creation.
The joy of Christmas does not have to end. Our Lord was born in Bethlehem, which means “house of bread”–He came to nourish us, to feed us, to give us life. This is something we cannot do for ourselves. He comes to us truly in this other bread–this bread and wine which will be changed into His body, blood, soul, and divinity. This is why we gather every Sunday, to come adore our Lord hidden in the Eucharist, in a very quiet way. Just as He hid His glory as a babe in swaddling clothes, so He hides His glory in the Eucharist. He wants us to experience this eternal joy of being with Him, and He will allow us to experience a small foreshadowing of this joy and peace even now in this life. If there has been something that has kept you from practicing the Catholic Faith, our Lord wants you. He wants to forgive your sins in the confessional. He wants to be close to you in the Eucharist. He wants to bless your marriage. He wants to find room in the inn. How blessed were the owners of that inn that night two thousand something years ago. How blessed are we to be here in His house, in His presence. Yet the greatness of this celebration today is a mere shadow of the joy he has prepared for us. So which way do we wish to celebrate? As the world does–which brings no deep joy, but stress, and simply ends suddenly? Or as the Church does–which begins after a time of preparation and opens to the eternal joy of being with God forever.