Christmas Day Reflection
Early Roman Missals reveal that Christmas celebrated God’s gift of Christ’s birth now: Hodie Christus natus est, its antiphon started, “Christ is born today.” And continued, Hodie Salvator apparuit, “The Savior appears today.” And closed, Hodie in terra canunt Angeli, laetantur Archangeli, “The angels sing out and archangels rejoice today.”
It’s a hard sell for Christians today, for we find ourselves below the tidal wave of bad news of war and terror, of social divisions and injustices, feelings of revenge and anger. Complementing the darkness of life today is that we too readily assume that our Christian ancestors were holier than we are. Yet if you listen closely to Christmas antiphons, prayers and responses, we hear that God has not withdrawn. The power of Holy Spirit announced to Mary by the angel Gabriel still nudged us forward. As Mary was lost—“How can this be?”—yet trusted the providence in the messenger’s news, we can sometimes find ourselves prodigal and trust that light will dawn.
The church, itself at times broken and sinful, still impels us to keep watch for the power of the Holy Spirit bringing God’s life in Christ to us hodie, “today.”
As Christians sing at Christmas, “Today is born our Savior, Christ the Lord,” they easily, too easily, imagine only the birth of Jesus in the manger at Bethlehem, magi and shepherds, cows and sheep included. But the consoling, commanding word of the anthem is “today,” which calls us to the same vigilance as the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks at night (Luke x:xx) and as the magi seeing the star at its appearance and trodding on (Matthew x:xx).
The Word of God incites us to keep eyes open for God’s gift in Christ in our place and time, here and now. After the pandemic and political strife, we can act like Mary and trust God’s plan, reaching out to those who have withdrawn, those who are angry, and those who are touched and love by few or none.
Extending the greeting, lending an ear, offering the kiss, we respond to Christmas worship’s antiphons and songs that point to God’s love and constancy: “Today true peace has come,” “Today a light will shine upon us,” as Christmas’s verses in the Roman Missal proclaim.
While our Christian imaginations are tempted to be captured only by the romantic remembrances of the cooing infant who was born to Joseph and Mary, we are called to receive the inheritance of God’s gift in Jesus Christ who is born among us today as much as in the romance of first-century Bethlehem.
God did not withdraw the gift of new life when Jesus died on the cross. Like the death and resurrection of Christ, the birth of Christ in human life and the church continues unabated. The power of the Holy Spirit that announced by the angel Gabriel is active and revealed in the twenty-first century. The birth is not remembrance, but claiming the new life born to us hodie, today, here and now.