Contemplating the Christmas Mysteries: He is Light and Peace
After all the Advent preparation and strife, we finally reach the climax of the solemnity of the Nativity of Christ and attend Mass for Christmas. The church decorations of evergreen, poinsettias and crèche are so beautiful and inspiring. Unfortunately, the entire time in church can be trying. So many extra people fill the pews, making it hard for "regulars" to find a seat. These people are those who never seem to come any other time except Christmas and Easter. The extras don't participate in the liturgy nor practice Church etiquette, which often makes celebrating one of the holier feasts of the year full of distraction and sometimes a source of lack of charity. But this Christmas I received a little admonition, inspiration and grace from one of those "Chreaster" attendees.
Our family spent Christmas at my mother-in-law's home in Pennsylvania and attended the earlier Christmas Eve Mass, which was very, very crowded. In the pew in front of us was a larger man (I'm rather petite, so anyone over 5'8" is large to me), accompanied by his very frail elderly father (wheeled-in) and then his younger brother with his wife and college-aged son. Early in the Mass the larger man (who was directly in front of me) said something to his father, and his father responded with "You have two arms and two legs, which is a whole lot to be thankful for." I noticed how the man looked around as if the church's surroundings were newer to him. From his conversation and his actions I got the impression he was depressed or looking for God, so I decided to pray for him during Mass. Mentally I was "laying hands" on him, asking Jesus to help him, especially at this great feast when He came as Light of the World. A bit later I started doubting my instincts, and chastised myself that I could surmise what someone else needed and presume my prayers would make a huge difference.
At the Sign of Peace, I shook his hand, saying "Peace be with you" and "Merry Christmas" and he turned back in his seat. Then he suddenly turned back around and said to me with a huge smile, "I'm beginning to like God again! It's crazy!"
What a blessing to see how the light of the Infant Christ continues to touch hearts! In that moment so much of the Advent liturgy synthesized for me. Jesus touched my heart, to make me see how He wants all of us. He is the Light Who came for everyone and will bring us peace. A few passages that came to mind that night:
- Isaiah 9:2: "The People who walked in darkness have seen a great light."
- The O Antiphons: particularly Jesus, as the Light of the World, or O Rising Dawn comes as O King of the Nations for everyone, not just the Chosen People or those who are faithful Catholics.
- Canticle of Zechariah (Luke 1:69-79): In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.
- Canticle of Simeon (Luke 2:29-32): Lord, now you let your servant go in peace; your word has been fulfilled: my own eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared in the sight of every people: a light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel.
These quotes have repeating themes of light overcoming the darkness of sin and the gift of peace. Jesus loves us all, but he is especially reaching out to those who only come once or twice a year; he welcomes all so he can fill everyone's hearts with His Light and Peace. On the feast of Christmas we recall the Infant Jesus, lying in the manger, visited by poor shepherds and gentile wise men. He came for everyone, all of us sinners, poor and non-believers alike. We do not belong to an exclusive club, but the doors are always wide open for all. Instead of being indignant for not finding a seat for Christmas Mass, I should be rejoicing that perhaps Jesus will touch someone new this night to bring His light and peace.
This incident was also an admonition of sorts, reminding me to see how we are united as a family in the Mystical Body of Christ. We are not supposed to be isolationists, but need to recognize and love our neighbor as our family in Christ. So I will continue with those little prayer thoughts when I see a neighbor in need. No prayers go to waste; God will use them in the best way possible.
What a wonderful grace to receive and much to contemplate! Catholics realize that Christmas is not just a day, but a whole season which ends on the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. (If you think that Candlemas is the end of the Christmas season, please see my post from last year: Christmas to Candlemas: When Is the Real End of the Christmas Season?). This year's Christmas season is eighteen days long, during which we can prolong the contemplation and celebration of the Christmas mysteries.
"Celebrating" does not mean constant partying and activities, but it can be time set aside for family togetherness and stillness in contemplation. We marvel how the Prince of Peace came into the world. If Christ has touched our hearts, we should be reflecting His peace. After the hustle of Advent preparation the Christmas season should be that time for relaxing and contemplating the spiritual aspects of the feast and placing oneself before the manger and the Christmas scene. We can imitate his Mother Mary in pondering and reflecting, "Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart" (2:19), and “his mother kept all these things in her heart” (2:51b). We need to keep all these things in our hearts, and contemplate the mysteries of Jesus Incarnate. What richness to ponder that He came as King of All Nations, loving and calling all of us to Him, not just regular Church attendees. Even though He came over 2000 years ago, His Light and Peace continues to touch all hearts.
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