Thought for the Day – 8 January – 2nd Day after Epiphany – It is still Christmastide!
‘If we want to live Christmas, we must open our heart
and be open to surprises, namely, to an unexpected change of life’
Pope Francis’ Homily – 19 December 2018 – General Audience
Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!
In six days, it will be Christmas. The trees, the decorations and the lights everywhere recall that this year also there will be a celebration. Advertising invites to keep exchanging newer and newer gifts to have surprises. However, is this the celebration that pleases God? What Christmas would He want, what presents and surprises?
We look at the first Christmas of history to discover God’s tastes. That Christmas was full of surprises. It begins with Mary, who was Joseph’s promised bride – the Angel arrives and changes her life. From being a virgin, she will be a mother. It continues with Joseph, called to be the father of a son without generating Him. A son that — in a dramatic turn of events — arrives in the least indicated moment, namely, when Mary and Joseph were betrothed and, according to the Law, could not live together. In face of the scandal, the good sense of the time invited Joseph to repudiate Mary and save his good name but he, although he had the right, surprises us – not to hurt Mary he thinks of taking leave of her in secret, at the cost of losing his own reputation. Then, another surprise – in a dream, God changes his plans and asks him to take Mary to himself. Jesus having been born, when Joseph had his plans for the family, again in a dream he is told to rise and go to Egypt. To summarise, Christmas brought unexpected life changes. And if we want to live Christmas, we must open our heart and be open to surprises, namely, to an unexpected change of life.
However, it’s on Christmas Eve that the greatest surprise arrives – the Most High is a little baby. The divine Word is an infant, which means literally, “incapable of speaking.” And the divine Word becomes “incapable of speaking.” The Authorities of the time or of the place or the ambassadors were not there to receive the Saviour – no, it was simple shepherds, who, surprised by the Angels while they were working at night, run without delay. Who would have expected it? Christmas is to celebrate the unheard-of God, or better, it is to celebrate an unprecedented God, who overturns our logics and our expectations.
To celebrate Christmas, then, is to receive on earth Heaven’s surprises. One can’t live “down to earth,” when Heaven has brought its novelties into the world. Christmas inaugurates a new era, where life isn’t planned but is given; where one no longer lives for oneself, on the basis of one’s tastes, but for God; and with God because since the first Christmas, God is God-with-us, who lives with us, who walks with us. To live Christmas is to let oneself be shaken by its surprising novelty. Jesus’ Birth doesn’t offer the reassuring warmth of a fireplace but the divine thrill, that shakes history. Christmas is the revenge of humility over arrogance, of simplicity over abundance, of silence over noise, of prayer over “my time,” of God over my “I.”
To celebrate Christmas is to do as Jesus did, who came for us needy people and to come down to those in need of us. It is to do as Mary did, to entrust ourselves, docile to God, even without understanding what He will do. To celebrate Christmas is to do as Joseph did, to rise to do what God wants, even if it’s not according to our plans. Saint Joseph is surprising – he never speaks in the Gospel, there isn’t one word of Joseph in the Gospel and the Lord speaks to him in silence, He speaks to him in fact in his sleep. Christmas is to prefer God’s silent voice to the noises of consumerism. If we are able to be silent before the Crib, Christmas will be a surprise for us also, not something already seen. To be in silence before the Crib – this is the invitation for Christmas. Take a bit of time, go before the Crib and stay in silence. And you will feel, you will see the surprise.
Unfortunately, however, the celebration can be mistaken and we can prefer the usual things on earth, to the novelties of Heaven. If Christmas remains only a beautiful traditional feast, where we and not Him, are at the centre, it will be a lost occasion. Please, let us not make Christmas worldly! Let us not put the One celebrated aside as ‘happened’ then, when “He came among His own and His own received Him not” (John 1:11). Since the first Gospel of Advent, the Lord has put us on guard, asking us not to be weighed down with “dissipation” and “the cares of life” (Luke 21:34). In these days one runs, perhaps more than ever during the year. So, the opposite is done of what Jesus wants. We blame the many things that fill our day, the world that goes fast. Yet Jesus didn’t blame the world. He asked us not to let ourselves be dragged, to watch at all times praying (Cf. v. 36).
Behold, it will be Christmas if, like Joseph, we make room for silence; if, like Mary, we say to God “Here I am”; if, like Jesus, we are close to one who is alone; if, like the shepherds, we go out of our enclosures to be with Jesus. It will be Christmas, if we find the light in the poor cave of Bethlehem. It won’t be Christmas if we seek the shimmering glow of the world, if we fill ourselves with gifts, lunches and dinners but we don’t help at least one poor person, who is like God, because at Christmas God came poor.
Dear brothers and sisters, I wish you a happy Christmas, a Christmas rich in Jesus’ surprises! They might seem uncomfortable surprises but they are God’s tastes. If we embrace them, we will have a splendid surprise for ourselves. Each one of us has hidden in the heart, the capacity to be surprised. Let us let Jesus surprise us this Christmas.