The Path of Life

The Path of Life

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Christmas challenge

Bishop Robert Barron has a very interesting -- not to mention provocative -- post on his Word on Fire blog titled "Why Christmas Should Bother Everybody". Click the link with the article title to read the entire post. It's worth your time, and I encourage you to read what he has to say.

His point -- if I may -- is that Christmas is not merely some sentimental holiday centered around a cute little baby in a manger surrounded by angels, stable animals, and shepherds. And it is not simply about expressions of peace and good will toward one another (though, hopefully, it includes such behavior). Although he doesn't mention it, Christmas also is certainly not about shopping, gift-giving, decorating, and celebrating at holiday parties. Though there is nothing wrong with those things if embraced in moderation, they are really cultural, secular activities that have very little or nothing to do with the true nature of Christmas.

Bishop Barron laments that in many quarters today, Christmas has been reduced "to a level so low, so banal, that the great Christian feast is offensive to precisely no one." That, he argues, is not a good thing, because what Christmas actually celebrates is the coming of God's Word made flesh, the Christ, to call each one of us to account. Yes, he came to save sinners by his death and resurrection -- but not so we could keep on living as we always have. Christ came to call us to radical conversion of life. Recall that Jesus' very first words to his followers at the beginning of his ministry were: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 4:17). Repentance calls for a change of heart, a turning toward God in every single aspect of our lives. We monks call it conversatio, and it is one of the vows we make. And it is not accomplished overnight; it is the work of a lifetime.

This should understandably unnerve us,  Bishop Barron argues. Our fallen human nature will resist such a call, such a challenge -- which, in a subtle way, is what we are unconsciously doing as a culture when we reduce Christmas to a banal, sentimental, inoffensive holiday. The true challenge of Christmas is to honestly examine our consciences, and to consciously embrace the call of God's Word to radically reorient every aspect of our lives toward Christ so that we are at one with him. And it is not something we can do on our own. By grace, we must rely on the gifts of prayer, Scripture, the sacraments, and the tradition and fellowship of the Church -- and then put those gifts to work in the worship of God and service of one another.

A good place to start is meditating on what it means for God, who out of fierce love for each one of us, became as small as a human infant in a feeding trough -- just as through his death and resurrection he becomes the Bread of Life for us to feed upon daily.

This is a message rarely preached these days, and one that is sorely needed in our world. As Bishop Barron points out, "Jesus is not simply a kindly prophet with a gentle message of forgiveness; he is God coming in person to assume command. He is the Lord."

This Christmas and thereafter, what will be your response? Do you accept the challenge? If so, let us rejoice together with the angels: "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests" (Luke 2:14).

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