News in Your Pocket and the Christmas Message

Carrying an iPhone around with me means I carry with me the stories of people all over the world, the suffering of people whose stories are reported in the news. The day before Christmas I looked into the eyes of the Jordanian pilot who was captured by ISIS and shortly after read a message from his father begging his captors to treat him with mercy. I’ve spent alot of time in this past week reflecting on the meaning of evil. Perhaps some would think this is a strange preparation for the celebration of Christmas, but I don’t think so. I found my answer to why we know as Christians that the Incarnation brings joy also to a world in which the nations are raging, as we prayed in Psalm 2 from the Office of Readings on Christmas Day. In the sermon of St. Leo the Great from the Office we read:

And so at the birth of our Lord the angels sing in joy: Glory to God in the highest,and they proclaim peace to men of good will as they see the heavenly Jerusalem being built from all the nations of the world. When the angels on high are so exultant at this marvellous work of God’s goodness, what joy should it not bring to the lowly hearts of men?

The angels who sang at the birth of Christ could see what we forget so often. “They see the heavenly Jerusalem being built from all the nations of the world.” We still see the warfare, hatred, and persecution and oppression, something Jesus himself suffered in his lifetime. But with his birth, life, death, and resurrection, the building blocks of the new Jerusalem are in place and at one point the nations will know the Messiah. Back to Psalm 2:

I will proclaim the Lord’s decrees.
The Lord has said to me: “You are my son: today I have begotten you.
  Ask me, and I will give you the nations for your inheritance,
  the ends of the earth for you to possess.
You will rule them with a rod of iron,
  break them in pieces like an earthen pot.”
So now, kings, listen: understand, you who rule the land.
  Serve the Lord in fear, tremble even as you praise him.
Learn his teaching, lest he take anger,
  lest you perish when his anger bursts into flame.
Blessed are all who put their trust in the Lord.
As St. Leo said: When the angels on high are so exultant at this marvellous work of God’s goodness, what joy should it not bring to the lowly hearts of men?
In Pope Francis’ Urbi et Orbi Message, he spoke about the people and places most marked with suffering, persecution, and pain. He ended this Christmas message with a paragraph that expresses the Christian belief that Christmas is not simply a nostalgic memory of a historical birth but the proclamation of the power of the tenderness of God to overcome evil and indifference. A friend’s father is an avowed atheist. He puts a nativity up in his front yard because, he says, Jesus was an historical figure and so he can recognize him as having lived, similar to Mark Twain or Winston Churchill or Napoleon. But we Christians all know, and can find comfort and strength in knowing, that Christmas is today the birth of God-with-us, wherever we are, in whatever we are living through, as we await the coming of the kingdom when all the leaders of earth will bow before God’s glory.
Pope Francis:

Dear brothers and sisters, may the Holy Spirit today enlighten our hearts, that we may recognize in the Infant Jesus, born in Bethlehem of the Virgin Mary, the salvation given by God to each one of us, to each man and woman and to all the peoples of the earth. May the power of Christ, which brings freedom and service, be felt in so many hearts afflicted by war, persecution and slavery. May this divine power, by its meekness, take away the hardness of heart of so many men and women immersed in worldliness and indifference, the globalization of indifference. May his redeeming strength transform arms into ploughshares, destruction into creativity, hatred into love and tenderness. Then we will be able to cry out with joy: “Our eyes have seen your salvation”.

With these thoughts I wish you all a Happy Christmas!

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