27 Dec 2015
“The shepherds returned glorifying and praising God for all they had hear and seen.” (Luke 2:20)
In the name …
During Advent I can skip from one radio station to another and listen to all the Christmas music I want. Once the clock strikes midnight on Christmas night, however, there’s not a Christmas song to be found except here in church. Usually when I have all those Advent choices, if I hear the first chords of Feliz Navidad, I immediately switch to another station. On Christmas afternoon I was doing some dishes and it wasn’t worth the effort to go over and change the station, so while I was scrubbing away I counted how many times Jose Feliciano wishes me Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year first in Spanish and then in English: 21 times in Spanish and 18 in English. And there’s nothing else said throughout the entire song. It drives me nuts. I don’t believe in hell, but if there was such a place this song would be on for an eternity.
I was talking to a priest friend this weekend. He told his congregation on Christmas, “What can I tell you about Christmas that you haven’t already heard?” And I guess in a certain sense he’s right. It’s kind of like Feliz Navidad saying the same thing over and over. But we’re missing something if we think the Christmas story is only for us. Pew Research reports that most Americans celebrate Christmas, but that only half of them celebrate it as a primarily religious holiday. What a great opportunity Christmas is, therefore, for the church and her people. We have the perfect chance to speak up and say something, anything, about Jesus’ birth. That’s why I so enjoyed St. Nick’s visit on Christmas Eve when he solemnly walked into church, knelt before this altar and then knelt down in front of the manger, taking off his hat in a sign of respect. It puts in perspective that Santa knows Jesus is the reason for Christmas and it’s not the other way around. No matter how many times we here have heard the Christmas story we should never tire of sharing it with others who may have forgotten its real reason.
The Lesson for this morning’s Mass was chosen because today is the Feast of St. John. John is honoured with this day so close to Christmas because he never abandoned Jesus; he was the only apostle to not fail Jesus at the cross. So, we’ve been talking about repetition. In those short four verses from the First Epistle of John that Sharon read for us earlier, did you notice the repetition of the first person pronouns? We declare to you, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, we have seen it and testify to it, was revealed to us, we declare to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us, and truly our fellowship, so that our joy may be complete. I count 13 of them. That’s closing in on a Feliz Navidad kind of repetition. John is hammering home the message that he and his church are sharing their witness and their faith with anyone else who chooses to listen. John isn’t credited with a Gospel, three Epistles and Revelation all to remind himself about Jesus. He’s trying to share what he already knows with others.
Or think about the Bethlehem shepherds of today’s other feast day celebration. The angels appear announcing Jesus’ birth to this most unlikely audience. Shepherds in ancient Palestine would have been viewed skeptically no matter what they had to say about their times in the fields and in the darkness of night, never mind that now they would be expected to share news of a Child Saviour born in an animal’s manger and all told to them by God’s angels singing to them from the sky. It’s not hard to imagine the ridicule they could have opened themselves up to. But nonetheless, after the shepherds go to the manger and see the child for themselves, they returned, says the Bible, to their normal, everyday lives, “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.” They share their story, in other words. They let others know about what only they were privileged to witness.
If they had taken the safer course of action and kept such a mystery to themselves, then there would be no angel atop this Christmas tree or maybe the ones in your homes, but they didn’t keep it to themselves. And likewise, neither can we. We can’t keep Christmas locked up in a beautifully decorated church only to be retold year after year for us alone to hear. Then that would be just boring repetition. Instead, we celebrate Christmas time and time again to be refreshed by its story of humility, innocence and hope, and also with the expectation that just like John, just like the shepherds, we too will share this joyous news with others who have forgotten or never knew the real reason for Christmas.
I’ve never run into such a situation, but others have told me, that sometimes alcohol can loosen lips, that people will say things with alcohol in their system that they otherwise would not. Like I said, I’ve only heard tell of such things, but toward the end of today’s liturgy, because of St. John’s day, I will share a little bit of blessed wine with all of you. The wine represents the first miracle in John’s Gospel of the water turned into wine and also reminds us of the story that John was protected from a poisoned chalice of wine by Jesus’ intervention. The wine is offered with wishes for a healthy and happy New Year, but let us also hope that maybe the blessed wine will give us the courage to speak up and to speak out about our faith. This is the perfect time of year to do so, and what a great way to continue celebrating the birth of Jesus – by sharing the gift of faith with others. In His name we pray. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo