So much can and should be said at Christmas Midnight Mass, but who can say it best and the most eloquently? Not I, I willingly admit. But listening to the many texts, especially from Sacred Scripture during the holy Seasons of Advent and Christmas, I have been struck by the powerful glimpse into the wonder of this holy time and the reason for the season.
I wish to concentrate these thoughts tonight on one phrase from the great Father of the Church, Saint Gregory the Great. Earlier this evening, at the Office of Vigils, the second lesson, from Saint Gregory the Great, had this to say: “no one is excluded from sharing in this joy,” of the Birth of our Redeemer. In other words, the joy of Christmas is for everyone. No one is excluded from sharing the good news and great joy which Christ the Lord comes to bring. This is how it has always been and how it will always be. No person, young or old or in between, should allow the Good News of the Birth of our God in the flesh, to escape one’s notice or grasp.
In the Gospel tonight, the invitation from the angel of God, given to the shepherds near the town little town of Bethlehem, where Jesus was born, was this: “I come to proclaim good news to you—tidings of great joy to be shared by the whole people.”
No one should feel left out from this great message, and even in the face of adversity, believers in the Lord can get through the difficulty, for when God is with us, who can be against us?, as Saint Paul reminds the Church of Rome in his letter to them. We may not feel the joy of Christmas in our hearts at all times or in every circumstance, but hopefully our hearts return regularly to Christian joy that in fact knows no bounds.
It might be important at this point to say something about what kind of joy should be ours in the Christmas season. The joy we are meant to experience as believers in the Redemption of the human race by God’s design, is a joy that cannot actually be seen, tested or predicted. Yet is it something very real and so great that there is nothing to compare with it. It can be seen, we might argue, in the faces and lives of those who are on fire for the things of God. And this is very true.
To possess Christian joy is a tremendous gift of God, and not simply one joy among many other joys. Christian joy is so great, so deep, so all-encompassing, that it alone can touch the depths of hearts and fulfill all one’s hopes and desires. This is also a joy that can unite peoples into one, and accomplish the desire for peace and harmony.
While joy in the Lord may seem a lofty goal, no one should think it is unattainable or only for a chosen few. Rather, all that is demanded is that we take up the offer that the shepherds received: “You have nothing to fear! I bring great good news to you, tidings of great joy, for all people.”
To accept this offer means to surrender preconceived notions, prejudices, reluctance, fear, sadness or anger. Excuses too must be set aside, such as, “I am not worthy,” or, “I don’t have the strength,” or, “I’m too old,” or, “I am too young,” or, “I have other things to do,” or, “I am satisfied where I am, and I don’t want to go deeper into the mystery.”
Our God, who is the Creator of everything and everyone that exists, came to share our humanity so that we could share in divine life. This is the greatness of the Incarnation that we now celebrate. The whole meaning of Christ is simply this: God-with-us, expressed in the beautiful name, Emmanuel.
God has come to us today and continues to come to walk with us through the path of life, bumpy or smooth as the journey may be, as we do it with every person, and with the greater human family. This means that we are never left alone. With God at our side, we walk the path of life toward understanding, meaning, fulfillment and happiness. “Today a Savior has been born to you, the Messiah and Lord.” These words of the angel to the shepherds spur them on to seek their Lord where he was to be found: lying in a lowly manger, yet the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Saint John Paul II expressed the response to the call of the angel very well, when he said: “Open the doors to the Savior.” Our God will never force his way in, like an unwanted thief, but is always at the door of hearts, knocking gently but persistently, until we open wide the doors of our hearts. Our Lord desires to win us, not to alarm us, so we go forth in confidence, faith, hope and love, both now and forever.
A Merry and Blessed Christmas to all!
Abbot Christian Leisy, OSB
Special thanks to Abbot Adrian Lenglet, OSB, of Mount Saint Benedict Abbey, Vaals, the Netherlands, for the springboard and inspiration for my reflection above.