Jesus Is the Meaning of Life and History
By Jennifer Gregory Miller ( bio - articles - email ) | Dec 26, 2013 | In The Liturgical Year
NOTE: This post was originally written on December 26, 2013, days after my open heart surgery to help a genetic heart condition. Six years later as I’m recovering from foot surgery and my husband mourning the sudden loss of his mother, these sentiments are again very appropriate to the Christmas season.
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Around the Christmas tree, the torn wrapping paper has been discarded, replaced by Lego sets in various stages of building. Baby Jesus rests in His manger, the Advent wreath candles have been replaced with red (it’s not the liturgical color white, but I love the festive Christmas red) and the Christ Candle rests in the middle of the wreath. I’m home for Christmas after two weeks in Cleveland for open heart surgery. Thank you for all the prayers. I’m recovering slowly but well. The transition has been very smooth, with my husband Dave taking over all the Christmas preparations and household duties, and members of my family and friends helping in all sorts of ways.
During all the poking and prodding and pain, I’ve been pondering how does this all apply to Christmas? Here is second highest feast of the Liturgical Year, recalling the birth of God’s Son as an infant on Christmas morning. What does it mean from the sick bed?
I started to think how I often I use my children’s births as a way to mark time. My husband and I have memories we place during the BC, aka “Before Children” time. Other events are placed in order around the birth dates of our sons. Their births are pivotal moments and life-changing events.
On an even larger scale is the impact Christ’s Birth has had on the world. Time is forever changed because the Son of God became man. History is divided into B.C., “Before Christ” and A.D., Anno Domini, the Year of our Lord. Pope Francis’s sermon this Christmas Eve speaks of this impact (emphasis mine):
The grace which was revealed in our world is Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary, true man and true God. He has entered our history; he has shared our journey. He came to free us from darkness and to grant us light. In him was revealed the grace, the mercy, and the tender love of the Father: Jesus is Love incarnate. He is not simply a teacher of wisdom, he is not an ideal for which we strive while knowing that we are hopelessly distant from it. He is the meaning of life and history, who has pitched his tent in our midst.
History is changed forever because of His Birth. Do I see that same impact on my life as I pass another celebration of Christmas? Is my life be positively changed after celebrating Christ coming into the world, even while I recover?
For me the answer comes clearly in the feasts immediately after Christmas. The Church tells us that we cannot be sentimental about this newborn Babe. The manger has become the Cross (although both the manger and the cross are very uncomfortable). The first three days of the Christmas Octave commemorate three types of martyrs. St. Stephen is the first martyr, the Church’s Protomartyr, voluntarily choosing to die for Christ. December 27 is the feast of St. John the Apostle, the only apostle who did not die of martyrdom. He did choose to die for Christ, but he did not die from his persecution. Finally, there are the Holy Innocents, who died for the sake of Christ, the first bloodshed after His Birth. They did not know Christ yet, so they did not choose to die for Christ.
These martyrs suffered in imitation of Christ, only theirs was in perfect imitation to the point of death, as Jesus did on the cross. Uniting our sufferings in Christ, even the smallest annoyances is in imitation of the cross of Christ. Each time we die to ourselves is a small martyrdom. The Christmas Octave with its varied feasts helps make sense out of suffering. We don’t suffer in isolation, but in imitation and in love for Christ. And we suffer with and for the Communion of Saints. And that makes sense out of Christmas, even or should I say especially, from the sick bed.
It’s a few days late, but I am offering a Christmas Season Prayer Companion to print. I made this for my sons to have on open display at our kitchen table throughout Christmas. Each day has a thought or prayer and a Christmas carol, with some artwork related to the season of Christmas. This is arranged so that it can be reused for every Christmas, but it will mean some pages won’t be used, and not every day will have a corresponding date.
A blessed Christmas season to you!
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Posted by: Dlukenbill2151 -
Dec. 28, 2013 1:51 PM ET USA
My father-in-law had open heart surgery a couple weeks before Christmas, so knowing how difficult the recovery is, but how wonderful that it all went well for him and you, I send Christmas season prayers to you and your family.
Posted by: koinonia -
Dec. 26, 2013 1:46 PM ET USA
The implications are tremendous. In a time when the reign of Christ is attenuated in favor of human respect, and increased sensitivity is leading to societal anaphylaxis these words must be embraced by men of good will. If we cannot have Christ at the center of our churches, sermons and testimony we cannot expect much at all. As an aside, I believe Epiphany used to outrank Christmas ever so slightly. Hoping recovery is swift and uneventful.