Christmas Eve: All we can do on the holiest of nights!
Saturday, December 24, 2022
[Christmas] is the very essence of a festival that it breaks upon one brilliantly and abruptly, that at one moment the great day is not and the next moment the great day is.G. K. Chesterton, Christmas, All Things Considered.
Our Advent journey will end tonight at midnight in a wonderful celebration of the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ! Are not our hearts welling up in anticipation and even with tears of overwhelming joy?! We were not there, but if we had been, would our answer have been the same as the Inkeeper’s ?
Joseph: “Help! I beg you. I ask not your home but any place you have.”from the film The Nativity Story, 2005
Innkeeper: [Pointing to a cave used for an animal stable] “It’s all I can do.”
And so Joseph, carrying Mary, enters into the cave, given as a gift, with their own gift. Later on in the film, after the birth of Christ whom the humble shepherd has come to see, Mary reminds him of what he told her when they had met briefly on her way to Bethlehem: “Each of us has a gift” that we are given and can give. It may be a lot – like those gifts of the Magi or it may be what seems little but is often crucial like access to a stable to help a woman on the verge of giving birth. But all is in service under the greatest gift the world has ever received: The child that was born for all mankind to save us from our sins and our plight of futility in this world.
Chesterton reminds us in “The God in the Cave” what this gift being given within the walls of another gift, an insignificant place offered in haste, has meant:
Christ was obviously conceived as born in a hole in the rocks primarily because it marked the position of one outcast and homeless. Nevertheless it is true, as I have said, that the cave has not been so commonly or so clearly used as a symbol as the other realities that surrounded the first Christmas. And the reason for this also refers to the very nature of that new world. It was in a sense the difficulty of a new dimension. Christ was not only born on the level of the world, but even lower than the world. The first act of the divine drama was enacted, not only on no stage set up above the sight-seer, but on a dark and curtained stage sunken out of sight; and that is an idea very difficult to express in most modes of artistic expression. But in the riddle of Bethlehem it was heaven that was under the earth. There is in that alone the touch of a revolution, as of the world turned upside down.G. K. Chesterton, The God in the Cave, The Everlasting Man, 1925
As Catholics, we will be given a gift tonight in the Mass – CHRISTmass. It is inherent in the very name of our celebration. For many there will be a Mass this afternoon and a Mass at midnight. Many of us will sing “O Holy Night“, “Angels We Have Heard On High” and “Silent Night” describing that night so long ago where Shepherds came and angels broke out in the first Christmas carol ever recorded:
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly army, praising God, and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace to men of good will.’ And it came to pass, after the angels departed from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another: Let us go over to Bethlehem, and let us see this word that is come to pass, which the Lord hath shewed to us.Luke 2: 14-15
Gloria in excelsis Deo!
It is as Chesterton said in our opening quote: It is as if we have walked through a door and Christmas was not on the one side but is, suddenly burst upon us, on the other side. As Frances Chesterton captures so well in her Christmas poem, Here is the Little Door, “we need not wander more but enter with our gift for Christ on His blessed day of birth….”
Here is the little door, lift up the latch, oh lift!
We need not wander more but enter with our gift;
Our gift of finest gold,
Gold that was never bought nor sold;
Myrrh to be strewn about his bed;
Incense in clouds about his head;
All for the Child who stirs not in his sleep.
But holy slumber holds with ass and sheep.
Bend low about his bed, for each he has a gift;
See how his eyes awake, lift up your hands, O lift!
For gold, he gives a keen-edged sword
(Defend with it Thy little Lord!),
For incense, smoke of battle red.
Myrrh for the honoured happy dead;
Gifts for his children terrible and sweet,
Touched by such tiny hands and
Oh such tiny feet. – Frances Chesterton, Here is the Little Door
Our Advent Prayer
Lord, in this holy season of prayer and song and laughter, we praise you for the great wonders you have sent us: for shining star and angel’s song, for infant’s cry in lowly manger. We praise you for the Word made flesh in a little Child. We behold his glory, and are bathed in its radiance. Be with us as we sing the paradoxes of Christmas, the incomprehensible only a little now more comprehended, the poetry made hard fact, the helpless Babe who cracks the world asunder. We kneel before you as shepherds, innkeepers, and magi. Help us to rise as lights to the world to praise you and tell of the glad tidings to all the world. Amen. St. Nicholas Ora Pro Nobis
Beloved, Let us thank God on our knees for this most holy night. Glory to God! He has come tonight. He is coming again! May God grant you all peace and bless you. Our Savior is come into the world! Let us do all we can do.