Christmas Eve Message from Fr. Andrew Leung, CSBDecember 23, 2022
Fr. Andrew Leung, CSB, President
When I was a pastor, many parishioners would ask if I would be going home for Christmas. I think my mom would like me to be home too! But alas, home for me was at the church. Though the past week, the question has evoked memories of past Christmases when I would go to my home parish in Calgary or Hong Kong with my family to help decorate the church. The pastors at my home church loved Christmas and would go all out with the decorations. Every year, my brother and I would have to untangle all the lights, and of course, they were in series circuits rather than parallel, so that if one tiny little light bulb goes, the entire strand goes. So, we would have to test every single light bulb and hopefully find the burnt-out one. We would then decorate the manger with every conceivable animal on the planet around baby Jesus. I did not realize that you could include a phoenix and a dragon in the manger scene. The last part of the decoration festivities was the tree and yes, for whatever reason, after the last bulb, garland, strand of lights, and the star, the tree would somehow tilt and fall, with bulbs rolling around in the sanctuary and onto the narthex. Then we would have to straighten up the tree and find creative ways of making sure it stood without falling again!
All of these little vignettes do remind me how special the Christmas season is. Today’s liturgy is one of those unique moments in our Roman Catholic tradition. Who of us cannot be captivated by the birth of a baby, born of simple, poor parents in a little village practically lost in obscurity? Who cannot laugh, smile, and reminisce about the Christmas decoration stories at the house and church? Who cannot be moved by certain carols that evoke childhood memories of family, friends, places, and times of Christmases past?
In George Frederic Handel’s famous oratorio the Messiah, we hear parts of today’s first reading from the prophet Isaiah in this musical masterpiece. In part one of the Messiah, we hear from the baritone singing an Aria the famous pronouncement that, “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shone.” Then it is joined by the choir and one of the most famous choral works in the Messiah besides the Hallelujah Chorus, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulder; and His name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, the mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.”
This oratorio is, I think, my most favourite – not just for the beauty and majesty of its melody, but because these lines capture what we celebrate today, God becoming human. What it means for God to become human is so hard to get our heads around that the Church gives us three different approaches in the Christmas Masses. To think that the God who created everything that exists – from quarks to galaxies – who has conferred on them the properties that order our universe, who continues to create all living things– from bacteria to us – should enter into created reality, should take on our flawed humanity – it is simply too much to grasp. Not just “How could that be,” but “Why would God do that”?
The ‘why’ of Christmas is simply, love – not just attraction, not just affection, not just passion, but pure, unalloyed self-giving. Creation itself is a foretaste of that self-giving – sharing the existence that is eternal in God. But the incarnation takes God’s self-giving to a totally new level. In Jesus, we recognize that self-giving is the very nature of God. The reading from Hebrews from the Mass at Day makes precisely that point. No more partial insights. Jesus is “the very imprint of God’s being.”
God became one of us not only to make evident God’s great love for us, but also to show us how to live out of that love. Christmas is not just for one day: it is for the whole year. Learning to live each day with patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-giving – is the true gift of Christmas. We often do it poorly. Still, we do it. It all flows from the self-giving of God that we celebrate today – a thousand roads leading out from the manger at Bethlehem.
The God-man whose birth we celebrate did the ultimate self-giving. As Paul’s Letter to the Philippians stresses, he accepted our death, “even death on a cross.” His way home took him through Calvary. It has been said that the manger at Bethlehem stands in the shadow of the cross. It is, after all, the cross that makes concrete the love manifested in Bethlehem. That is something we desperately need to grasp – not as a ‘downer’ at this joyful season, but so that we can understand that truly ‘normal,’ truly human, life consists of total self-giving. For Jesus is not just the “very imprint of God’s being” but the norm – as in ‘normal’ – the very model of what true humanity is.
The feast of Christmas reminds humanity of one profound message: God has mixed with the human family and loved them all – the men and the women, the weak and the strong, the rich and the poor, those who love and those who hate, those who are beautiful and those who are not. And only God, himself, knows who is close and who is far from him. From now on, we can recognize God, but not in the power and glory of our temple worship, our power, prestige, and numbers. At Christmas we are taught where to find God: In the midst of humanity, in the thick and thin of the human race, in the smile and tears of a newborn baby, in the suffering of strangers, in the cherished gift of friendship. From now on, anyone who understands that God has become human will never be able to speak and act in an inhuman way.
That is why we rush to the stable, to see ourselves transformed, to anticipate the angel choirs and the visitors from the East who will tell us that which is truest about the destiny of this Child, and our destiny too. That is why we listen to this message from Jesus himself; it tells us what we most desperately want to hear: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you.” And when we return to the program of ordinary life, we recognize better that it is the whole program which is holy and beautiful because of Him. As the Angel said to the shepherds: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom God favours.”
On behalf of the Basilian Fathers of St. Michael’s College School, we wish you blessings of hope, love, joy, and peace, as we welcome the birth of the Messiah. May God continue to bless you and your families during this Holy Christmas season.