Yesterday, I attended the Christmas Concert and Living Nativity by the Choir and the children of our Basilica Parish. I arranged the lights on our Monastery Christmas tree and arranged for the decorating of the Basilica in time for Christmas. Today, I am writing out the employee Christmas cards and gifts as well as cards for each member of our Monastery Community. You guessed it – Christmas is drawing near. There is nothing like lively Christmas music and children telling their version of the birth of Christ to get you into the Christmas spirit. And we do need to get into that spirit.
Our Scriptures today are very helpful. We have two extraordinary women of faith to consider. Hannah, who praises God for the gift of her son Samuel after years of waiting for this blessing from the Lord, comes to the Prophet Eli and presents her son to the Lord in the Prophet’s care. In the gospel, we have Mary who bursts into God’s praises once Elizabeth acknowledges Mary as the “Mother of my Lord” who has come to visit her as she awaits the birth of her son, John the Baptist. They are first of all women of faith. They have each lived in a deep, abiding relationship with God. They have poured out their hearts to God, have persisted in their petitions to God and have listened carefully to God’s answers through the very circumstances of life. As a result, both Hannah and Mary are women of praise for God. They fully recognize God’s loving action in their lives and offer themselves in service to His divine design for life. Because they understand that it is God who loves first, they are caught up in praise. They avoid the mistake of believing that this is all their own accomplishment. Rather, they praise their God and revel in His love showered upon them.
This is not to say that Hannah and Mary are passive actors in the play of life. On the contrary, they are women of faith who are preeminently women of action as well. They accept God’s blessings in the persons of their sons and set about raising them in the spirit of that same faith and that same sense of service to God which characterizes their own lives. Hannah is up and out the door to bring young Samuel to his apprenticeship with Eli. She has a “get it done” attitude as she presents her son to the Lord. Mary breaks into praise of God after hearing God’s Word through the Angel Gabriel, after accepting God’s Word into her womb, and after packing up and going to see Elizabeth who might need a bit of companionship and help as she gives birth in her old age to John the Baptist. There is no sitting around with either of these women.
In this, perhaps, we find our own Christmas inspiration. We often think of Christmas with a kind of romantic notion. We imagine a time of peace, comfort, shared happiness, a gentle snow falling (even if you live in Florida or Southern California). We might hope the snow doesn’t last too long but the image of a gentle snowfall with Bing singing “White Christmas” is very appealing. We are able to sit back with a deep sigh of contentment. Today’s scriptures and our two women of faith invite us to a very different understanding of Christmas. We are called at Christmas to a time of action. We are to set aside that pessimistic moaning we sometimes hear about generosity or kindness only surfacing at this time of the year and put our energy into heightening that generosity, compassion and kindness even if it wanes later. We are invited by Hannah and Mary to be men and women of action this Christmas. We are invited to take the initiative to mend the fences between us and a family member, to reach out to let others know how we are doing and inquire how they are even if it is only once during the year, to spend time with a sick neighbor or with Mom and Dad, Grandma or Grandpa in a nursing home, to affirm and encourage the children and teenagers in our lives – and to do so in a more energized and greater way during the Christmas season. If we are looking to deepen our faith and live it more fully as disciples of action, Christmas has a natural pull on our hearts to do so now and with fervor.
As we close out our Advent this year, may God’s abundant Christmas blessings wash over us enlivening us to greater joyful action in living our faith this Christmas season.
Fr. Richard Burke, CP, is a member of St. Paul of the Cross Province. He lives at St. Ann’s Monastery in Scranton, Pennsylvania.