Monday, 22 December 2008

Christmas Vigil - Year B

Isaiah 62:1-5; Acts 13:16-17;22-25; Matthew 1:1-25

Signs are important things, especially street signs; they tell us a lot. I notice kids love to twist signs around so they point in the wrong direction, maybe we’ve even done it ourselves, and most of us would have been a victim of that little trick once or twice in our lives. Luckily I can usually tell right away they have been tampered with so I don’t get lost too often.

Actually, it’s a question of power. Street signs are very powerful things. They point out the direction to what we're looking for, in my case the homes I want to visit.

To change a street sign around so that it faces in a wrong direction can cause a great deal of trouble to people and sometimes, to see someone heading off in exactly the wrong direction because you have changed the sign around can be sort of amusing, so long as no harm comes of it.

So as I said, it’s a matter of power.

Do you know, some adults enjoy changing the signs around too? No, I’m not speaking about the street signs, I am talking about far more important signs than that; I am talking about the signs that point us to the most important things in life.

A common example of this is to turn the pews in some older churches ninety degrees to the right or the left, away from the front, to make them more ‘community-centred’. It was all probably well meant but now that we are thirty years further down the track we are beginning to see it for the mistake it was. We were pointing the sign away from Jesus in the tabernacle to … us! As this happened in churches people began doing it also with their theology, liturgy, ecclesiology, catechesis, Christology, and even personal prayer … turning it towards self rather than to God.

The world, too, is very good at changing the signs. For the world the sign to happiness says money, consumerism; to inner peace, drugs; to truth, popular consensus, and so on, and so on.

At this time of Christmas, to a world immersed in individualism, confusion, hedonism and violence, God gives a sign. It is a sign pointing to all that is good. It is the way to truth and life ... a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.
  • A baby … human, small, humble, needy, innocent and vulnerable.
A baby is all that we are right now, no matter whether we are eight or eighty, and we’ll never be anything more. A baby is what God holds up to this activity-centred, money-making, and kingdom-building world; and the kingdom doesn’t have to be big. Anything that ‘possesses’ us, whether it be our stamp collection or our grand-children, is our kingdom. Anything which makes us believe we are a more than we really are, whether it be our house, our ‘connections’, or our job; anything at all that makes us forget who we are, what we are – God’s little baby – that is for us the sign pointed in the wrong direction.

But this baby is Jesus – human and divine, God and man, God and neighbour. He is The Baby, the only-begotten of the Father, the Beloved One, the Way, the Truth and the Life.

I read in a housewife’s blog on the internet: I grew up without getting Christmas presents. Mum liked to make sure that we remembered the 'True Meaning' of Christmas.

The thing that affected me the most at Christmas time, was the Nativity set. We'd love unwrapping each figurine and setting it up. Mum's nativity set always had a 'removable Jesus'. Then she would hide the Jesus, and not put Him in till Christmas Eve, after we'd been to Mass.
We would rush inside after Church to see if He had been born.
The memories are so lovely, as we never rushed in for presents, but to see if the Lord Jesus was born.
Reading this blog I am reminded of Jesus’ words: I tell you solemnly, unless you change and become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven(MT 18:3).
  • wrapped in swaddling clothes … secure, loved, cared for.
Let me repeat: secure, loved, cared for. The tiny infant is surrounded by the swaddling clothes in the same way as he is wrapped round by the love of Mary and Joseph, his parents, as he is wrapped round by the love of God. We are all God’s little children and he loves us all like that; his love wraps itself around us and he cares for us every day. However, we need to understand that his care for us extends beyond the confines of this mortal life; his care is to get us to heaven, not to keep us free from suffering on earth.

If we are God’s little baby we will allow ourselves to be bound by him; we will allow him to give us our security. We will keep his commandments and follow his ways. We will remain in his family the Church, where he can look after us, forgive our sins in Confession and feed us with his Body and Blood in the Eucharist. In other words, we will express our littleness through obedience.
  • lying in a manger – poor, available.
Our Saviour was born in a stable and laid in a manger, not in a mansion, not even in a one bedroom flat. The sign is saying: happiness and peace this way!
And we don’t really need a lot. Jesus shows us that.

Of course, the Child is not just lying there all by himself. Close by is a loving mother and a loving father. They are to the infant what water is to the fish; they are the natural environment, the eco-system each child should have.

God’s sign to happiness is an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. It’s up to us to stop the world from turning this sign around.

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