Summary: After all, what is important about Christmas?
Thursday of Fourth Week in Advent 2016
Joy of the Gospel
The prayer we just heard in the Gospel is one of the most beloved in Catholic history. It is likely that it was part of the public and private prayer of Christians from the very beginning of the Church. We still pray it every day at Vespers. In fact, it has been the name of a little publishing empire for a couple of decades: I see their flagship monthly publication in the hands of many Catholics, including my wife. The Latin title comes from the first word of the prayer: “Magnificat.” Moreover, if you want a real treat some day this season, type “Magnificat settings” into YouTube, and listen to the very many lovely ones both Catholic and Anglican.
Hannah was barren and should not have been. She prayed and her prayer was answered by the birth of the prophet-leader Samuel. Samuel prophetically chose David to be king of Israel. David is the royal ancestor of Jesus. Hannah’s prayer almost sounds like a hymn of revenge against her detractors. Remember that ancient Israel was no kingdom of justice and mercy. Nor was it at the time of Jesus. Nor, lamentably, is ours today. So we can rejoice that the Lord’s providential care lifts up the poor and humbles the haughty. And I mean personally that when I have been full of myself, it has been part of God’s mercy to kindly let events cut me down to size. There’s room for only one God in the universe, and I am not Him.
It is a critical part of our calling as Catholics to be part of that care for the poor. The Holy Father has been writing about that in his encyclical: ‘When Saint Paul approached the apostles in Jerusalem to discern whether he was “running or had run in vain” (Gal 2:2), the key criterion of authenticity which they presented was that he should not forget the poor (cf. Gal 2:10). This important principle, namely that the Pauline communities should not succumb to the self-centered lifestyle of the pagans, remains timely today, when a new self-centered paganism is growing. We may not always be able to reflect adequately the beauty of the Gospel, but there is one sign which we should never lack: the option for those who are least, those whom society discards.
‘Sometimes we prove hard of heart and mind; we are forgetful, distracted and carried away by the limitless possibilities for consumption and distraction offered by contemporary society. This leads to a kind of alienation at every level, for “a society becomes alienated when its forms of social organization, production and consumption make it more difficult to offer the gift of self and to establish solidarity between people”.’
That’s particularly true, may I add, at Christmas. Even the culture acknowledges the moral evil of consumerism. We call the day in which people shove each other around at the big box stores “black Friday.” Very appropriate to call the day when statisticians count the injuries attributed to shopping madly for the latest gadget “black.”
What should be our response? Certainly we should in our families encourage restraint in spending for gifts. That scene in “Christmas Story” where the little tyke Randy comes down to the Christmas tree and yells “that’s mine” should remind us that selfish behavior is childish and off-putting. Children can be encouraged to gather up their old, unused toys and give them to St. Vincent de Paul. Even better, they can be urged to take one new toy from their haul and do the same thing.
The rest of us could make gifts to charity and then give the acknowledgments to our friends and family members. After all, what is important about Christmas? Worshiping God incarnate in the human nature of Jesus. Honoring Mary and Joseph and all those who helped them in the early years of Christ. Gathering friends and family and sharing the story of Christmas, and the story of God incarnate in our own lives. The gifts are garnish on the feast. If we emphasize them too much, we will get spiritual indigestion. If we share with the poor in imitation of the gift-giving Christ, everybody wins.