Monday, December 26, 2005

The Season of Christmas

Sometimes we feel as if we have a right to having a happy Christmas. The reason of the season is of course celebrating the birth of Jesus, but a reflection of the liturgy for the Advent and Christmas seasons give us a more balanced picture of both salvation history and what is yet to come.

The readings from the Prophet Isaiah of this season are sobering. The people of Israel are worshiping false idols, consulting with fortunetellers, and given to drunkeness, adultery, and sodomy. They are greedy in their riches and unjust to the poor. They are falsely pious hypocrites in the Temple and Synagogues. This is a condemnation of us all; both Left and Right.

Today is the feast of Saint Stephen, the first martyr, killed for proclaiming the Gospel. This is not a pleasant reminder of the difficulties of the Christian life; however, his persecutor, Saul, later became the great apostle to the Gentiles, Paul.

On Tuesday is the Feast of Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist, who was the beloved disciple of our Lord, and was the only male follower to remain faithful to him at the Crucifixion—the others having run and hid. Only the holy women and this boy kept the faith; not the Apostles nor even Saint Peter, the first Pope, remained true under this first persecution. John's later life was very difficult, and while not martyred, he suffered torture and imprisonment.

On Wednesday is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, commemorating the slaughter of the children of Bethlehem by Herod, in his attempt to kill the Messiah, and also we read about the killing of the male children of the Hebrews by Pharaoh.

On Friday we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family, added to the calendar by Pope Benedict XV in 1921. Dom Augustine Oppenheimer gave a homily on this feast last year where he said that this Pope Benedict explicitly added this feast in opposition to the destruction of family life that was occurring at that point in history, and which has yet to be reversed. This feast symbolizes Christian family life. The Blessed Virgin Mary, the greatest of all creatures, is subject to Saint Joseph, while Jesus, the Incarnate God, is subject to both.

This season is not just a time of recalling the wait for the birth of the Christ Child, but also a waiting for the return of Our Lord in glory in the future and the end of the world. This theme of destruction is very appropriate in the northern hemisphere with the coming of winter, but Pope Benedict XVI makes the point that it is appropriate symbolism with the coming of summer in the southern hemisphere, with the hope of a new world to come. It is for this reason that we should not have too high expectations for a fun Christmastime, as is the secular custom. Pain and sorrow exist in all seasons of the year, and we should reflect on that during this time also, but we know that joy and gladness will eventually conquer the sorrow.

The Jews had hoped for a Messiah who would end their subjugation to the Roman Empire. Jesus was not the Messiah they had hoped for, and so many rejected him. All seemed lost; after the Crucifixion, the rituals of the Temple failed, and soon the Temple itself was destroyed, never to be rebuilt, and the Jews themselves were slaughtered and the survivors were scattered across the face of the earth. The conquering Messiah hoped for by the Jews is yet to come, but we Christians hope and tremble with fear at His return.

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