25 Dec 2008
“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled.” (Luke 2:1) In the name …
Fr. Randy Calvo
Something strange has been happening to me recently. Pants that I’ve worn for years for some reason are shrinking. Also, just recently I was finally able to see pictures of our summer vacation to Washington, D.C. Again something strange had happened there too. For some reason the guy who processed the photos used that Photo-Shop-software on them and put my face on a guy whose stomach was not nearly as sleek and svelt as mine. After seeing the pictures, I kept telling Sharon, “I don’t own a shirt that looks like that!” Then, the other week I was out having lunch with my dad as we do every week, and this time my sister came along too. I had a small little roll with a little dollop of butter, a small little bowl of bisque and a very small little sandwich, and my sister says to me, “You know Randy, maybe a salad would have been a better choice.” But then even more recently I had to face the reality that maybe it wasn’t that my pants were shrinking, or that my pictures were being Photo Shopped, or that my sister just doesn’t know what she’s talking about. A couple of weeks ago I had to order new cinctures, those are the ropes that a priest wears around his waist. For a while I was having more and more trouble getting the cincture to fit comfortably, the way it used to. Then one Sunday I had to pull so hard on the cincture that I pulled the tassel right off [**]. Standing there with the tassel in one hand and the cincture in the other, it was awfully hard to avoid the realization that I have gotten a bit rounder than I used to be.
This all got me to thinking about The Santa Clause movie. Christmas changed Tim Allen’s character every year, and part of that change was made obvious by his increasing size. He didn’t want to admit to the “Santa Clause,” but his girth forced him to. He grew into a jolly old elf no matter what he did to try and avoid it. Christmas changed him in obvious, visible ways. That’s what Christmas has to do. When Christmas is real, there’s no hiding it. When we accept that God personally entered crea-tion on Christmas, then ritual and humanity, spirituality and ethics, combine so that there is no division between who we are here at church and who we are out in the world. I think it’s because Christmas lets us believe, lets us hope, that the world itself has been changed by the Christ Child’s birth. God says to all who will listen that earth and life are not only sanctified by Jesus’ birth, but that they are also worthy of it. When we have faith enough to believe in this Christmas promise, we can look at life differently than those who do not, and I hope this gives us the reason and the courage to act differently.
Christmas is not dependent upon the world. Instead, Christmas changes the world. It is first announced to the shepherds by one of God’s angels. In the same heavenly proclamation in which the shepherds are told of “good news of great joy” of a Saviour’s birth, they are simultaneously told that He is born in an animals’ manger and wrapped in swaddling clothes. The words don’t match the picture unless somehow this humble birth still gives “glory to God in the highest.” Luke begins this Christmas story with a reference to Caesar Augustus who was the adopted son of Julius Caesar. In 44 B.C., Julius Caesar was assassinated. To honour him, the Roman Senate declared him a god. This then bestowed upon Augustus the honourific title “son of god,” which he protected by going to war against friends and foes alike. Luke is contrasting the power, wealth, and strength of this well-known “son of god” with the humbleness and love of our Son of God born in a manger because there wasn’t even room for Him at the inn, and through this comparison Luke is challenging us to believe that this helpless child promises “peace on earth to those on whom His favour rests.” He’s challenging us to re-think who our heroes and models are.
All the message and imagery of the story tells us that the meaning of Christmas isn’t determined by whatever is in the newspaper on any given December. It’s not dependent upon whether the economy is up or down, the value of our homes has increased or decreased, whether our jobs are secure or not, or whether we are at peace or at war. This is not to ignore these real world issues and concerns, but to place them in perspective because Christmas is more. That’s the promise of a baby born to a frightened mother and her confused husband who is still our Saviour, a baby born in an animals’ manger who is still the Son of God. This is still God’s good-news, His joy and salvation, His glory and peace, and the world can never grow dark enough to change any of this. If we believe in Christmas, then we are not confined by the news of the day whatever it is, but neither are we freed from it. Christmas says that God has come personally into our world. If God has invested Himself in our world in that Holy Child, then we, by God, cannot turn our backs on the world because if we do then we turn our backs on the God who is in this world, the God who values and believes in this world. Christmas affirms the value of this life in all its ordinary glory, and Christmas transcends the meanness of this life with promises of “peace to those on whom His favour rests.”
This is how Christmas changes us. It gives us hope and strength. It tells us that God values us and that since He has shared life with us He will not leave us. So sing the carols out loud, let the mystery not belong only to the youngest children, revel in the joy of Christmas, imagine the sky parting and feel again the glory of the angels and their chorus, hear their harps when ours is played, kneel again before the humbleness of the manger and wonder at its hidden majesty, “for today a Saviour is born.” Christmas has changed God, it has changed the world, and let us pray this night that it may also change us. For this we pray in the name of the Holy Child, the newborn Saviour of us all, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. (+)