“No more let sins and sorrows grow, / Nor thorns infest the ground; / He comes to make His blessings flow / Far as the curse is found, / Far as the curse is found.”Like many other carols, this rarely sung verse of “Joy to the World” leads us into the profound mystery of the Christmas feast. In the little child whose birth we celebrate, we gaze on the face of our champion in a struggle that could not be won without him. Listen to St. Leo the Great:
For unless [Christ] the new man, by being made in the likeness of sinful humanity, had taken on himself the nature of our first parents, unless he had stooped to be one in substance with his mother while sharing the Father’s substance and, being alone free from sin, united our nature to his, the whole human race would still be held captive under the dominion of Satan. (Epistle 31, 3; LH vol.1, 321)
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There is a Scripture reading proclaimed at the Christmas Liturgy that usually gets overlooked. And yet it should elicit considerable reflection since it is proclaimed at the Christmas Midnight Mass, one of the Church’s most prominent Liturgies. It is from the Letter to Titus in the Second Chapter. I would like to reproduce it in full and then give some commentary following.
The grace of God has appeared, saving all
and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires
and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age,
as we await the blessed hope,
the appearance of the glory of our great God
and savior Jesus Christ,
who gave himself for us to deliver us from all lawlessness
and to cleanse for himself a people as his own, eager to do what is good. Titus 2:11-14
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‘Lullay, Thou little tiny Child, by by, lully, lullay . . . ”
The 16th-century Coventry Carol, a mother’s lament for her lost son, is the only song of the season about the other children of Christmas — the first-born of Bethlehem, slaughtered on Herod’s orders after the Magi brought him the not-so-glad tidings that an infant of that city would grow up to be King of the Jews. As Matthew tells it, even in a story of miraculous birth, in the midst of life is death. The Massacre of the Innocents loomed large over the Christian imagination: In Rubens’s two renderings, he fills the canvas with spear-wielding killers, wailing mothers, and dead babies, a snapshot, one assumes, of the vaster, bloodier body count beyond the frame. Then a century ago the Catholic Encyclopedia started digging into the numbers. The estimated population of Bethlehem at that time was around a thousand, which would put the toll of first-born sons under the age of two murdered by King Herod at approximately 20 — or about the same number of dead children as one school shooting on a December morning in Connecticut. “Every man a king,” promised Huey Long. And, if it doesn’t quite work out like that, well, every man his own Herod.
via The Massacre of the Innocents – Mark Steyn – National Review Online.
Ban reindeer, if you like. Abolish Santa Claus and Christmas trees. Keep your family wrapped in the starkest of Advent penances. Eradicate eggnog and candy, tinsel and presents, snowflakes and stockings. Exterminate the festival of it all, the nonsense of the season, if you must.
Lord knows, you have cause. Christmas has become, in the United States, the holiday — which is to say, the holy day — that dare not speak its name. We still have all the extraneous stuff that grew up around Christmas: the gift-giving and those awful Hallmark cards and the mistletoe and the holly. The Muzaked carols, for that matter. But the words of those carols seem to have become a problem for American culture, since — Joy to the world, the Lord is come! — they all too often contain information about the actual reason for the holiday. What is it, in these late modern times, that makes us see the glitter of the season while blinding ourselves to the gold that lies at its heart?
via The Catholic Carnival of Christmas | Daily News | NCRegister.com.
Far into the night, at the coldest time of the year, in a chilly grotto, more suitable for a flock of beasts than for humans, the promised Messiah – Jesus – the savior of mankind, comes into the world in the fullness of time.
There are none who clamor around him: only an ox and an ass lending their warmth to the newborn infant; with a humble woman, and a poor and tired man, in adoration beside him.
Nothing can be heard except the sobs and whimpers of the infant God. And by means of his crying and weeping he offers to the Divine justice the first ransom for our redemption.
He had been expected for forty centuries; with longing sighs the ancient Fathers had implored his arrival. The sacred scriptures clearly prophesy the time and the place of his birth, and yet the world is silent and no one seems aware of the great event. Only some shepherds, who had been busy watching over their sheep in the meadows, come to visit him. Heavenly visitors had alerted them to the wondrous event, inviting them to approach his cave.
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Rise up then in the morning with the purpose that (please God) the day shall not pass without its self-denial.
. . . If, then, a person asks how he is to know whether he is dreaming on in the world’s slumber, or is really awake and alive unto God, let him first fix his mind upon some one or other of his besetting infirmities. Every one who is at all in the habit of examining himself, must be conscious of such within him. Many men have more than one, all of us have some one or other; and in resisting and overcoming such, self-denial has its first employment. One man is indolent and fond of amusement, another man is passionate or ill-tempered, another is vain, another has little control over his tongue; others are weak, and cannot resist the ridicule of thoughtless companions; others are tormented with bad passions, of which they are ashamed, yet are overcome. Now let every one consider what his weak point is; in that is his trial. His trial is not in those things which are easy to him, but in that one thing, in those several things, whatever they are, in which to do his duty is against his nature.
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Editor’s Note: Each year around Christmastime we post a slightly updated version of the following personal Christmas reflection which offers an alternate custom to the celebration of the great Feast. I wrote it some years ago, and every year since I receive email from new visitors to this site gently chastising The Remnant for not posting it earlier in Advent so as to allow time for families to adopt as their own some of the customs herein suggested.
Over the years many Catholic families have adopted the old Christ Child tradition, believing it to be a beautiful means of restoring the true meaning of Christmas while strengthening Catholic identity in children. And it can be gradually implemented, of course.
Santa Claus (St. Nicholas), for example, can still be invited to visit the Catholic home on Christmas morning but in a dramatically reduced capacity, perhaps leaving a few stocking stuffers above the mantle and moving on.
As it was in Catholic homes throughout Christendom, Christmas must become all about the Christ Child once again. And a truly merry Christmas remains forever predicated on careful observance of Advent. No Christmas trees, no lights, no good things to eat until December 25, when the time of waiting comes to an end and all of Christendom rejoices at an event so magnificent even a two-year-old gets it. Christ is to be born—and the world, the flesh and the Devil will never change that reality, no matter how hard they try.
Happy Holidays? Yeah, right! It’s time to take Christmas back, and here’s one suggestion for how to do it, based on traditions as old as Christendom itself. MJM
Read this at Reclaiming Christ at Christmas