Friday, December 30, 2016

The Light Shines in the Darkness #PeaceOfChrist

(New Year’s Eve)

Thus we know this is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not really of our number; if they had been, they would have remained with us. Their desertion shows that none of them was of our number. But you have the anointing that comes from the Holy One, and you all have knowledge.   1 John 2:19-20

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came to be through him,
and without him, nothing came to be.
What came to be through him was life,
and this life was the light of the human race;
the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:1-5

Our lives are made of days and nights, of seasons and years,
for we are part of a universe of suns and moons and planets.
We mark ends and we make beginnings and, in all, we
praise God for the grace and mercy that fill our days.

Remember us, O God;
from age to age be our comforter.
You have given us the wonder of time,
blessings in days and nights, seasons and years.
Bless your children at the turning of the year
and fill the months ahead with the bright hope
that is ours in the coming of Christ.
You are our God, living and reigning, forever and ever.
(From USCCB website)

On this last day of the year, the Magisterium serves us up quite a combination to contemplate.  The “last hour” referenced in the First Letter of John is not written in anticipation of the Tiffany Ball dropping in Times Square. It refers instead to the time when we prepare for the Second Coming of Christ. 
We do this even though the much-anticipated commemoration of the First Coming was only seven days ago. We hardly have had a chance to contemplate the miracle of the Nativity with all the feast days of martyred saints following Christ’s Mass.

Feast of Saint Stephen, first martyr
Feast of Saint John, Apostle and evangelist
Feast of the Holy Innocents, martyrs
The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

It is almost as if the Magisterium itself is waging a war on modern Christmas.  Is the message “Don’t get too happy and merry!” 

Writing in The Washington Post last week -- Christopher Hale quoted Pope Francis as saying “Christmas is a charade.”  At Mass in 2015, Pope Francis said: “Christmas is approaching: There will be lights, parties, lighted Christmas trees and manger scenes. … It’s all a charade.” Hale (and I) wonder why the pope would wage a proverbial (rhetorical) war on how modern society celebrates Christmas. Here is how Pope Francis explains it:

“The world continues to go to war. The world has not chosen a peaceful path. There are wars today everywhere, and hate,” Francis said. “We should ask for the grace to weep for this world, which does not recognize the path to peace. To weep for those who live for war and have the cynicism to deny it. God weeps; Jesus weeps.”

The secular ways by which the holy birthday has come to be marked might be a charade.  However, the real meaning of Christianity is not in the bright lights and finely wrapped presents. The central meaning is found on our other high holy days -- Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

The rejected, crucified and executed Jesus Christ is still somehow Lord of the entire earth.  Not the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes with three gifts of gold frankincense and myrrh, but the battered and bloody and bruised and pierced adult hanging from a cross by three huge nails. Christ’s mortal defeat by this inglorious death and triumph over it in the Easter Sunday Resurrection is the central tenant.  We need to enjoy but snap out of the carols and cookies and be reminded – quickly and harshly – that we must focus on Christ’s real presence in the world then, now and in the future.

The real meaning of that presence is learned and felt in our action -- reaching out to the excluded and downtrodden, and humbling ourselves before others like Jesus.  Like Mary.  Like John.  Like Stephen.

Hale writes:

Yet God didn’t send a military leader or a politician to save his people, but a child born to an unwed mother, who even fled violence as a refugee. This child did indeed bring liberation, but not just for the people of that time and place. He was to be a savior for all of humanity and for every age, destroying death forever and restoring life through the means of a shameful death upon the cross. No one would have expected the messiah to be born in poverty, obscurity and exclusion, far from the cultural and political centers of the world — but such is God’s logic.

At Christmas, Jesus came all the way down into the grittiness of human dysfunction — its violence, its disloyalty and its sinfulness — to bring everyone up. The very essence of the holiday calls us out of our comfort and into discomfort.

In Jesus’ birth and in his story, we can begin to understand Christmas for what it really is: God’s invitation to a revolution of tenderness.

Tonight, Christians do not focus on how chilled we should get the Bollinger’s.  As we ring out the old year and ring in the new, we can focus on the Pope’s annual message for the World Day of Peace (tomorrow). 

“All of us want peace. Many people build it day by day through small gestures and acts; many of them are suffering, yet patiently persevere in their efforts to be peacemakers”.  In 2017, may we dedicate ourselves prayerfully and actively to banishing violence from our hearts, words and deeds, and to becoming nonviolent people and to building nonviolent communities that care for our common home. “Nothing is impossible if we turn to God in prayer. Everyone can be an artisan of peace”.

Stake your claim on social media to your status as an Artisan of Peace thanks to the Franciscan Action Network and Pax Christi.  Look for resources on @PaxChristiUSA web:

Print out the Artisans of Peace sign and pose with it.  Post that “selfie” as your profile picture to ring in the new year.

Here are some other suggested actions by Pax Christi that you can take for the 50th World Day of Peace.
  • Invite your pastor and church members to renew the Vow of Nonviolence.
  • Hold a holy hour for peace.
  • Organize an interfaith or ecumenical prayer service on peace.
  • Do something with those who have been victims of hate and violence
    in your community.

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