From Christ’s Mass to Merry Christmas… and Back

by | Dec 29, 2021 | Formation, Reflections

A visitor from outer space might be forgiven for not seeing the connection between what happened 2000 years ago and the last week of December each year.

Our version of Christmas often has little to do with the reality of Christmas. Those days 2000 years ago are history. These days, chaotic and commercialized, press in our consciousness. Who has time to think about Christ’s Mass? Contrast our awareness of the “9 shopping days until Christmas” with awareness of a 9-day Christmas novena and the “O Antiphons”?

(By the way…, linguistically, the “Mass of Christ”, the root of our word for Christmas, first appears in 1038, mere thousand years ago.)

Forgotten traumas of the first Christmas

For some, a “Sunday Gospel” knowledge of the scripture and its homilies seem to have missed the significance of many aspects of Christmas.

What we tend to focus on certainly is comforting to read. We know the outcome of the story of Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection. We rarely have the time and psychic energy to wrestle with the reality of the circumstances of what happened at the beginning.

Yes, the days long ago brought “glad tidings”. However, we have succeeded in separating the glad tidings and the traumas surrounding Christ’s birth.

We gloss over the news that Jesus’ arrival confused Mary; caused Joseph to consider divorce; and, in King Herod, ignited a genocidal fury. Herod also apparently wanted to know how rich he was. He calls a census! So everyone must travel to their native towns.

Once Jesus is born, Mary and Joseph must flee Bethlehem to evade Herod’s assassins. The Holy Innocents were born “around the time Jesus was born.” For this they pay with their lives and parents weep bitterly!

The Holy Family must wait in a strange land until an angel tells Joseph to return; but Joseph, warned by another angel, decides to head to Nazareth.

Challenge – connect past realities with present realities

Rarely we do see the connection between the reality then and the challenges of our day. The challenges of the season leave little time for recollections of the past. We have so much to do and our hearts can be heavy with anxiety and anger in our society and even within families.

At best, on Christmas day we set aside one hour out of the 168 hours in a week. Even that one hour is distracted by thoughts of what we still have to do for the rest of the day. Our inner worlds are “heavy burdened”.

Who has time, to realize that a Herod hides in us all? So does an innkeeper and Joseph! Shepherds and angels telling the “Good News”! Even a Mary and Joseph!

We need hope and comfort. But we also need to see the challenges Jesus and others around him faced as he entered into our world.

At Jesus’ Presentation (only 40 days after his birth), Simeon tells Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed — and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Real people 2000 years ago. experienced a mix of joy and confusion, happiness, and worry. All were part of the first Christmas.

Can we see in ourselves something of the confusion, questioning, anxieties, and even trauma faced by those who lived through the anxieties and sufferings of those days?

Yes, if we can enter into the fullness of Christmas past, we will experience new levels of hope in the midst of a chaotic Christmas present!

Originally posted on Vincentian Mindwalk

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