For all humanity

  • December 19, 2006

At this year's Midnight Mass we read Luke's famous nativity account in which the shepherds in the field first hear the good news of the birth of Jesus Christ from an angel: "Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people." Christians recognize that it was indeed good news, but sometimes it is easy to forget it was for "all the people."

More important was the form of this "good news." It was a completely unthreatening and helpless infant, wrapped in the swaddling clothes of poverty and powerlessness. With His arrival, as the angelic host sang, came glory to God and peace on earth.

Christmas, our annual recollection of this Incarnation, carries with it this year a heavy burden. In recent years — in fact since Sept. 11, 2001 — religion has come to appear in many eyes as a motivator of violence, a breeding ground for hatred and suspicion toward those who are different. Those not religious themselves have found more and more reason to argue that religion should be a private affair to be kept out of the public square. This has sometimes led to silly overreactions at this time of year as well-meaning institutions and companies decide it would be more inclusive to strip Christmas of Christ and to simply celebrate an inoffensive "holiday season."

In response, Christians have reacted with at times angry exasperation and accuse commerce and government of violating their religious freedom by catering to minorities.

Both the action and reaction have little to do with Christ. In fact, it must puzzle recent immigrants of other faiths greatly when they observe our annual frenzy of consumption, seemingly characterized by mammoth advertising campaigns for cell phones and big screen TVs. They likely sympathize with the Christian critics of the whitewashed holidays but recoil at the Scrooge-like spirit they can display.

We shouldn't begrudge the festivities and gift-giving. In their own way, they celebrate something most people may not even understand, but still recognize as that buried pearl, that priceless gift to the world.

The child Jesus reminds us that true religious faith is not about power or even believing. It is about loving. We share the good news because it is, in fact, good; it is something that people living in the midst of a cruel world would be happy to hear. It can bring joy to their lives and fill their hearts with warmth and peace. By its very nature, it is not something that can be force-fed to others.

Jesus is God made human; as such the infant Jesus represents God made vulnerable and helpless, reaching out in love and hoping to be loved in return. It is why God brings peace and why Christianity should be the antithesis of violence.

So on this most special day, we join the angels in praying peace and goodwill to all the earth.

More in this category: « Truly risen A sad ending »

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