Fr John Gallagher SJ counts the spiritual blessings of the coming of the Messiah and shows Christians how to put Christ back into Christmas
WE ARE rapidly approaching the morning when, for approximately the nineteen hundred and eighty-fifth time there will be announced, "There is born unto you a Saviour".
The danger is that it will make little real impression. The words "saviour" and "salvation" have become so smooth with age-long use that they no longer attract attention. Yet they represent something for which people have yearned in all ages and in all parts of the world; something for which untold numbers have prayed and sacrificed and died.
At Christmas we try to listen to the word of God. It is our most worthwhile occupation. The divine words are, to our human spirit, what food and drink are to the body, but much more satisfying and sustaining. They give us a glimpse of heaven.
The World is too much with us; late and soon, getting and spending, we lay waste our powers", wrote Wordsworth. If we can rise above our animal level and listen to God, we shall have not gloom and doom but invigorating new life.
God's message is not uttered in vain. It will work quietly but fruitfully upon those who await it expectantly. "For as the rain and snow come down from Heaven and return not thither but water the earth, making it spring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater so shall my word he, it shall not return to me empty".
A new path
At Christmas we make a fresh start. To reach the waters of life we must abandon our wicked ways and follow a new path every bit as demanding as that followed by the Wise Men. It is worth the effort? The Wise Men thought so, and it was.
Christmas has a unique atmosphere. We are anxious not to overlook anyone who sends us a card or present, or who expects one from me, or someone who won't get many remembrances and fewer presents. At school little children prepare cards for their mothers and keep them secret until the great day arrives. Anxious little eyes watch to see if she is pleased, and little hearts wait for the loving and grateful hug.
In recent years the Government has given a bonus to old-age pensioners. It provides for necessities and perhaps for some little luxuries. Somehow Christmas touches the hearts of all generations, especially those who are professedly Christians.
"Fools rush in where angels fear to tread". Today we need a rush of angels bringing messages to our hearts and minds, urging us to work for the kind of world that Christ plans.
It brings an upsurge of faith. Faith can move mountains. There are mountains of difficulty in the human mind, fears, anxiety, inertia, disappointment. Given even a grain of fear they will disappear. The tiny seed from the divine Sower whose field is the heart of man, is assured of its growth.
What seemed at first sight to be an immoveable mountain is found to be a molehill. When the mountains of difficulty are removed, something turns up that was not there before. Or we will be shown a way to go round them, or given the strength to climb over them, or the perseverance to tunnel through them. With Christ now among us nothing is impossible.
How sweet the name of Jesus sounds in a believer's car. "Jesus the very thought of thee with sweetness fills my breast", wrote Edward Caswall in the 18th century. It cores from an 11th century Latin hymn "Jesu dulcis memoria" written by a Cistercian monk which goes on to speak of the presence of Jesus being sweeter than honey. Honey was extremely important in a world ignorant of sugar cane and beet.
The meaning of Christmas
I asked various people what Christmas meant to them. "Christ is born", was the answer, "what more can 1 say"? Another said, "This may sound odd but I like all the commercialisation, the sending of cards and gifts. It reminds us that we have received many gifts from our Creator".
An older person answered, "I don't want to sound morbid but besides the .joy, I see the suffering. The crib merges into the cross. And somehow this is comforting". Another replied, "The feast makes me nostalgic. I become a child again at home with my family".
The feast is "antiquissima sed novissima"—very old and very new. It fitted nicely into place. The birth of Christ, prepared from all eternity, occurred in "the fullness of time".
The Jewish people had waited long. At times almost faithless, they had still kept the spark of faith alive. There was new hope. Their ancient oppressors, Egypt, lay buried in the sand. The Philistines had sunk into the sea. Babylon and Assyria were in ruins. The Romans still remained but would not the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob come to the help of the Jews again? "Be comforted my people", the prophet had said. "He shall feed his flock like a shepherd. He shall gather together the lambs with his arm and shall take them up into his .bosom".
But the chosen people made the tragic mistake committed by countless millions down the centuries. TheYlooked upon the Messiah as one who would bring material instead of spiritual blessings. We pray this Christmas that we will not make the same mistake.