The Deeper Meaning of Christmas

WeeklyMessageHomilist: Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio

Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord (Christmas),
December 25, 2011

In the days of Caesar Augustus, an era of peace finally dawns on the civilized world after centuries of strife. But this peace results from the proud ambition of emperors and the swords of their legions.

In the Roman province of Judea, mysterious dignitaries from the East arrive with tales of that a star signals the birth of a great king. Neither Caesar nor Herod will brook any rivals. So brutal hordes are sent to slay all the infants in the region to make sure the usurper is eliminated. The thugs are thwarted, but only for a season. For the royal child is laid in a manger, and the wood of that manger foreshadows the wood of the cross.

Caesar and Herod were bound to misunderstand Him. They climbed their way to the top, stepping on all who stood in their path. Jesus emptied himself and plunged to the bottom, from the glory of heaven to the squalor of a stable. Pharaohs and Caesars strained towards immortality. Yet He who was Immortal by nature embraced mortality. The great ones of the world exalted themselves. In the very act of being born, He humbled himself.

You would think that He would have chosen to make his debut in Rome or Athens. But He selected an obscure desert town in a dusty provincial outpost. Even in this humble spot, not even a seedy inn would make room for Him. So they had recourse to a cave, welcomed only by animals. Isaiah said it well: “an ox knows its owner, and an ass its master’s manger; but Israel does not know, my people has not understood” (Is 1:2).

Everything was in fulfillment of Scripture. He was born in Bethlehem, a town whose name means “house of bread.” Though His crib was a manger–a feeding trough–they did not understand that He was the Bread of Life. He was wrapped, like Solomon, in swaddling clothes (Wis 7:4-5), but they did not recognized him as the new King and embodiment of divine wisdom.

The only people who recognized Him were shepherds, the humblest in society, and Magi, the wisest. But most Israelites, like us, were neither very humble nor very wise, so they missed it. They especially missed this–that one of the birthday gifts was incense, used in the worship of gods. He was not only king, wise man, messiah, and savior–he was God incarnate.

How could Jews have believed this? God is infinite, invulnerable, and omnipotent. What is more vulnerable, fragile, and helpless than an infant? Can the Eternal be born in time? Can the Divine Word be a child at the breast, incapable of speech? Can a mere teenage girl be the Mother of God?

It was just as hard for the pagans to believe it. For their philosophers had taught that God is spirit and the body is a prison. Salvation for them meant liberation from the confines of the physical body. So the idea that a divine Savior would embrace human flesh just did not compute.

Love sometimes does strange things. It takes great risks and goes to extreme lengths that many would call foolish. On that first Christmas day, God’s foolishness was wiser than men, and his weakness was stronger than men. It took them all by surprise.

But this, of course, was part of God’s strategy. The element of surprise is critical in warfare. And Christmas was an act of warfare. In fact it was D-Day, the day of deliverance. The preparation had taken centuries, but now it was time for the Conqueror to land on enemy occupied territory. He came in humility, and would finish the conquest thirty years later by the greatest act of humility the world had ever seen.

“Peace on Earth, Good will towards men.” True peace can never be forged by steel, but only by love. It is the humble babe in the manger, not Caesar in his chariot, who is the real prince of peace.

A Digest of Articles from Catholic Blogs and Websites
December 25, 2011

The Meaning of Luke’s Christmas Story
In the gospel passage for Mass at Midnight we hear the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke. It is a story so simple that even a child can grasp it; yet, even after 2000 years it is a mystery so profound that the richness of its meaning remains inexhaustible. We are reminded again of God’s providential care which makes all history sacred history. The powerful rulers of the world, whether an Egyptian pharaoh or a Roman emperor, may have their armies and issue their decrees, but through the odd coincidences of history, God’s own purposes are ultimately achieved. As foretold by the prophet, Mary gives birth to a savior, who is Christ and Lord, in Bethlehem, the city of David.


Christmas: He Is All that Matters
Christmas comes this year as the financial conditions of the country and much of the world are leading most to recognize that their lifestyles must change, particularly the lifestyle that buys without the clear knowledge of having an ability to pay. I do not have to tell you that many people are suffering from loss of work, the inability to pay major debts, etc. Most people are cutting back. Many do not know how much longer they can hold on.


What Are The Twelve Days of Christmas?
The twelve days of Christmas, also called Christmastide, start on the evening of Christmas Day and end on the morning of Epiphany (January 6th).

The Feast of Epiphany appears to have been established very early in the Church with St. Clement of Alexandria mentioning its celebration on January 6th in the third century.

While the date of Christmas moved many times in the early Church, by the 300’s all calendars in the Western Church marked the date as December 25th.


Is This the End of the Christmas Season, or the Beginning?
Terry Mattingly of GetReligion has a great column about the “two Christmases.” As he notes, for the Church, the Christmas season runs from Christmas Day (December 25) to Epiphany (January 6). These are the famous Twelve Days of Christmas. But in secular society, the Christmas season runs from around Thanksgiving until December 25. So this Sunday marks either the end of the Christmas season (for secular culture), or the First Day of Christmas (for the Church).


Christmas, Pagan Romans, & Frodo Baggins
One of the old chestnuts concerning Christmas (and I don’t mean the type roasting on the open fire) is the charge brought by old-fashioned Protestants and new-fangled atheists is that Catholicism is old paganism dressed up in new clothes. These critics notice similarities between certain Roman Catholic customs and the old Roman religion and snipe that our faith is no more than paganism revisited.

One of their favorite examples is the celebration of Christmas. These theological scrooges attribute the date of Christmas, and all its trappings–like mistletoe, gift-giving and Christmas trees–to pagan customs warmed up and served again like so many religious left-overs. The story goes like this:


The miraculous story of Claude Newman & his conversion through the intercession of the Virgin Mary
The Virgin Mary appears in a series of visions through the intercession of the Miraculous Medal and converts two men on death row.

Claude Newman was an African American man who was born on December 1, 1923 to Willie and Floretta (Young) Newman in Stuttgart, Arkansas. In 1928, Claude’s father Willie takes Claude and his older brother away from their mother for unknown reasons, and they are brought to their grandmother, Ellen Newman, of Bovina, Warren County, Mississippi.


Be Steadfast Until the Coming of the Lord
Just a few days ago, on December 15, Pope Benedict XVI gave an address to university students of Rome in which he said many things that apply pointedly to the great adventure of faith and reason that Wyoming Catholic College is engaged upon. Taking as his text James 5:7—“Be steadfast, brothers, until the coming of the Lord”—the Pope then spoke eloquently about the “interior attitude necessary to prepare ourselves to hear and welcome again the proclamation of the birth of the Redeemer in the stable of Bethlehem.” As a teacher, I am often struck by how much patience, dedication, and care is required of both students and faculty in order to develop that inner attitude of receptivity to the astonishing truth that the Eternal Word of the Father, the Divine Wisdom in whom and for whom all things exist, has become man, so that we might become God through His grace. …more


The virgin birth of Christ – What the Church really teaches
Christ’s birth “did not diminish his mother’s virginal integrity but sanctified it.” (Lumen Gentium [Vatican II], 57)

The Church teaches de fide that Mary was a virgin before, during, and after the birth of Christ our Savior. She conceived as a virgin, she gave birth as a virgin, and she remains a virgin forever. Yet, we ask, What does the Church mean when saying that Mary was a virgin “during birth”? What is the mystery we contemplate in the third joyful mystery of the Rosary? Why do the Popes and Church Fathers (together with the Doctors) insist that Christ’s birth was “miraculous”?

Five Essentials for Discovering and Living God’s Will
When God has a Different Plan


I think most of us can remember an occasion when we had something all planned out. It might have been something relatively minor or it might have concerned something of greater significance to our lives. And then, everything changed and the plans we had made had to be set aside for a while or even abandoned entirely.


A reader puzzles over a nephew’s philosophy
I have a nephew that has been caught up in the secular/relativistic worldview and has apparently lost his faith in Christ. Here are his comments about his belief structure:

Religion is created as a means to give our lives a greater purpose, for those who can’t come to terms with the finality of death. Upon death, our consciousness simply ceases to exist and our material bodies are cast back into the environment from which they came from in order to make way for newer life. You will refuse to believe this because in your eyes, it is a very grim picture. You would interpret my picture as life becoming meaningless and simply thrown away. This is why you find comfort in Christianity and are so devout about it.

Christmas 1944: Battle of the Bulge
In 1944 at Christmas the American and German armies were fighting it out in the Battle of the Bulge, the last German offensive of the War.

Patton’s Third Army fought its way through to relieve the Americans desperately fighting to defeat the attacking German forces. The weather was atrocious and Allied air power was useless. Patton had a prayer written for good weather. Patton prayed the prayer, the scene from the movie Patton depicting this may be viewed here. The skies cleared after Patton prayed the weather prayer, and Allied air power was unleashed on the attacking Germans.


The Catholic Connection to Hanukkah
Last night marked the first night of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah (or Chanukah). What you may not know is the connection between Hanukkah and Catholicism. Namely, the festival of lights celebrates the events of 1 and 2 Maccabees, which Catholics and Orthodox consider Scripture, but Protestants and Jews don’t. I’ll let Professor Jon Levenson, professor of Jewish studies at Harvard Divinity School, do the explaining:

The Roman Catholic tradition honors these Jewish martyrs as saints, and the Eastern Orthodox Church still celebrates Aug. 1 as the Feast of the Holy Maccabees.

Christmas, the Infinite, and the Finite
The title of Father Edward Oakes’ new book, Infinity Dwindled to Infancy, nicely captures the imaginative challenge posed at Christmas: the mystery of the infinite God become finite man. In truth, however, the challenge to our imaginations has less to do with the how of what the Divine Office calls this admirabile commercium [marvelous exchange] than with the why.


Give Liturgy of the Hours a try in 2012
In November, Pope Benedict XVI said that there is one prayer that he wishes all Catholics would learn to use. Can you guess what it is?

Guess again — not the Rosary. Nope. Not the Divine Mercy chaplet either.

Here are some hints. This prayer is nearly as old as the Church itself. Most laity have no idea what it is, but your pastor says it every day.

Give up?

It’s the Liturgy of the Hours, also known as The Divine Office.


When Christmas Isn’t Christmas by Fr. Paul Wharton
[In recent years some churches have held “Blue Christmas Services” for whom the celebration of Christmas is difficult for whatever reason. My post for today is something I wrote years ago to a mythical “Virginia” as a newspaper editor once so famoously did many years ago. It is followed by a prayer from a Blue Christmas Servicd posted on the web.]


7 reasons why “Merry Christmas” will always beat “Season’s Greetings”
Let’s imagine for a moment that Christmas had never happened and that the Roman Emperor Aurelian had succeeded in establishing the feast of Sol Invictus on December 25 back in the year 274 AD.

Instead of Christmas, we would have had the Feast of the Unconquered Sun. At this time of year, just after the winter solstice, the lantern beaming light and heat hangs low in the sky; the days are dark and cold. But day by day it climbs back, infallibly reaching its fiery zenith at the summer solstice six months later. Yay! Way to go! This god has won more rounds than Manny Pacquiao!

The Late Movies: Vintage Christmas
Christmas has been the subject of film ever since film was invented. Some of those early shows survive, although you may not have seen them. Here’s your chance to watch some rarely-seen Christmas cheer, spanning from 1898 to 1969.


Render unto God…
Was separation of Church and State established way before America?

And Jesus answering, said to them: Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. And they marvelled at him.

As Catholics we believe that we are made in the image and likeness of God. We are to tie to Him ourselves, we belong to Him who created us. As Catholics we must be very careful before we lobby the government to take care of the sick, the poor, the educational needs of children, the homeless, etc. This is God’s kingdom.

Theo-Logic: Understanding What Divides Catholics from Protestants
The New Testament does not prescribe an ecclesiological goal, a model for modern communities, or a perfect theory for newer groups to emulate. The New Testament is a mirror that reflects the face of the living Church; it reveals to its audience what occurred, how the Church that Jesus built behaved. It is sacred scripture; it is all truth, but not all the truth. And nobody, not even Protestants, could admit that the Bible is the Word of God if it were not for the authority of the Holy Roman Catholic Church.

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