Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Happy 2012, and Keep Celebrating Christmas!

I'm a little late starting the New Year. We've been having a bit of a vacation, so I'm a little out of touch. But the year has begun well. And yes, our Christmas tree still shines brightly during Epiphany week. Although John Paul is back to school, Eileen and the girls have this whole week off. It's great having Eileen around. We get to sleep in, watch funny videos late at night, and even talk about intelligent subjects. We have been blessed to have this time.

The commercial world has left Christmas far behind, but we are still very much in the midst of it. Christmas is about more than just the birth of Christ. Christmas is about the manifestation of God to the world in the humanity, in the flesh of Christ. It is about the appearance of this man in the world, before the eyes of others, the "epiphany" of the mystery of God and His love in Jesus the Son of Mary, in history, to real human beings who begin to recognize Him.

It is the celebration of the way that God has chosen to communicate with human beings, by coming into our midst, by taking the very flesh of the humanity of our own lives and making it "His," not as a beautiful idea, but in real life. He took on a real body, blood, and soul--He became a man--so that He could meet us and enter inside of our lives and embrace us completely. Thus Jesus appears in history and continues to dwell among us in the Eucharist and in the life of the Church.

So we celebrate His "epiphany"; God's manifestation of Himself in and through the real human nature that He makes His own. A man walked the earth who said, "He who has seen me has seen the Father." We celebrate the moments in which He was "seen" for the first time, and the significance of these events for all of us. So He is seen by Mary and Joseph--His glorious face--for the first time at His birth, and then He shows Himself to the poorest and humblest of the earth, the shepherds of Bethlehem. We must never forget that God chose to come first to the poor, to those who carry out the menial tasks, to those who count for nothing in the world.

The rich had to go looking for Him, but He gave a sign that could be recognized by those who were poor in spirit, and the Magi follow the star and bring their wealth to give to Him. Thus He first shows Himself to the Gentiles, revealing that He has come to a particular place and time in order to be the Lord of all places and times, of Jews and Gentiles, of the near and the far.

At the same time, the great event that we celebrate in the Christmas season is a moment in His adult life, the beginning of His public ministry, the moment in which He shows Himself to the chosen people after receiving the baptism of John. This is an iconic moment when the Trinity is revealed, when the Father speaks and the Spirit descends in the form of a dove. God reveals His own inner life through the humanity of the Person of the Son, who with the Father and the Spirit are eternally One God, consubstantial, One God in Three Persons. It takes time for these terms to be articulated, but the reality shines out in this moment: God is One but not solitary; His inner life is an eternal communion of self-giving love. "This is My Beloved Son...."

Ancient tradition calls this event the Theophany, the manifestation of God. It is also the beginning of the revelation of God's design, which corresponds to the deepest truth of who we are as human persons. "Listen to Him," because He has come so as to be, in Himself, the way, the truth, and the life. Through Him, God shows us that He wants to raise us up to a participation in His divine life, to become His children "by adoption." Thus shines before us also the mystery of our own dignity and destiny according to God's loving plan. We come from nothingness. We are destined for eternal life with God, and we will achieve this destiny by being united with this man who is the God the Son, Jesus Christ. He has come to save us and transform us in Himself.

We do not continue to celebrate Christmas because of some excessive emotional attachment or childishness. We continue to celebrate because it helps us to remember the glory of God, and the fact that He has shown Himself to us in order remain with us, to be the light of life, to be our way to Him.

Look at the lights of Christmas and remember the glory of God, the beauty of His face, the manifestation of His amazing love for us.