A Vincentian View – A Christmas Homily: “Celebrating the Small”

by | Dec 28, 2016 | Formation, Reflections

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A Vincentian View

A Christmas Homily: “Celebrating the Small”

Each year before Christmastime in Advent, one of my brothers sends me four tickets to “The Messiah” at Lincoln Center.  This gives me an opportunity to see this seasonal show with some of my confreres and friends.  “The Messiah” is filled with passages from the prophet Isaiah.  It begins on the note:  “Comfort, give comfort to my people” (Isa 40:1). One of the more famous and powerful passages from Isaiah is found in the first reading today:

“For a child is born to us, a son is given us;
upon his shoulder dominion rests.
They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero,
Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.”

In the opera, this affirmation is found four times, with a kind of dialogue among the voices as they sing

“For unto us a Child is born, unto us a son is given,

and the government shall be upon his shoulders.”

Then all the voices come together and proclaim loudly and distinctly

and His name shall be called

Wonderful

Counsellor

the Mighty God

the Everlasting Father

the Prince – of Peace

These last thundering descriptions are accompanied by, as one reads in the program, “the shimmering coloratura in the strings” which I interpret as the violins go wild.  It is a very moving and uplifting presentation, and repeated with variation four separate times.  When it is over, the words still echo in one’s ears.  The grandeur of the birth of the Lord receives its full consideration as an extraordinary and unrepeatable event.

Contrast that with the Gospel which we have heard today.  This is the way in which the evangelist presents the birth of the Lord:

And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth . . .
to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.
While they were there,
the time came for her to have her child,
and she gave birth to her firstborn son.
She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger,
because there was no room for them in the inn.

Notice what Mary does “she wraps the child in swaddling clothes” that is to say pieces of cloth with which she encircles her infant to keep him warm and his limbs straight.  Some say that reminds the child of the womb.  The poor attended to their newborn in this way.  And “she lays him in a manger,” an animal trough usually filled with hay for eating, but now hay for sleeping.  The scene could not be presented with fewer words or more simply. The aural “shimmering coloratura in the strings” is lacking, but more than replaced by the visual image of a holy family.

What a contrast between the presentation of Handel and that of Luke!  Yet, they are not contradictory.  They both accurately tell of the same event.  The second from the Gospel-writer tells of the actual happenings; the first from the music-composer celebrates its meaning.

Do you think that it is an embarrassment that our Savior was born in such humble surroundings, or do you think that it calls our attention to what is most important: a healthy child, simple covering for warmth, a place to rest, shelter from the elements, gentle loving hands, and mother’s milk for nourishment. Yet, this child born of a virgin, wrapped in rags, and laid in a makeshift crib is

Wonderful

Counsellor

the Mighty God

the Everlasting Father

the Prince – of Peace

Yes, the sacred and the profane are beautifully and seamlessly gathered in the one garment.

And so, what does it all mean?  What do you think?  Many things!  Perhaps one is the importance of the humble and seemingly insignificant.  These most ordinary artifacts and human actions are the ones in which great value rests.  It is the heart-felt gift which we freely offer one another, it is the ease which we bring into another’s life that carries the full voice and expression of our care for each other.  The gathering of family and friends, the valuing of children, the small kindnesses, the ordinary generosity, the brief visits—it is in such as these that grace and blessing lie.  These are the responses to and the participation in the reality which the Christ child brings.

On this Christmas evening, I invite you to think small, to think in terms of personal sharing and human kindness.  In these we model the coming of our Savior and celebrate the path of our salvation.

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