On a certain kind of Christmas

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Vexilla Regis by David Jones

I was wondering during the past few days why God allows hardships to happen to people right before Christmas. People die on Christmas Eve, or have a car accident on the 22nd, totaling a car. Some people have their entire stock of Christmas presents stolen from under the tree while they are out, or some people, like me, have things lost in moving—even totally up to $10,000. A few people find out their husband or wife is cheating on them during the Christmas season. Some people find out they have cancer on the 21st, and some lose a child the week before The Child’s birthday is celebrated.

Life and death, joy and sorrow, strife and peace are the warp and woof of our existence on earth. I remember when I entered Tyburn, which seems so long ago now, that I realised that the nuns never had a day off. There is no down time in the convent, except for 45 minutes a day of relaxation when one can talk or knit or take a nap. No down time—that is the key to life, really. The old battle between good and evil continues unabated regardless of the carols sung at Midnight Mass.

There is no down time for those of us in the trenches, and as Father Ripperger has stated more than once, if one is not getting flak, one is not in the trenches. In the battle is where we are, but for some people it is more obvious than others.

Many years ago, one of my grandmothers died close to Christmas. It meant a complete shuffling of the holiday, as we always visited her on Christmas morning. How hard it must have been for my father, who was crushed on the day, thinking of all the years of family custom and family love. For some, however, Christmas is a time of unlove. I have one friend who hates Christmas as her parents hated her from day one. She was the unwanted child in the family and to this day, this woman cannot celebrate Christmas and spends it alone, on purpose. Her Christmas is miserable, as she does not cry out for the healing power of God in her life, or for the forgiveness necessary which follows the anger of abandonment.

I have to face Christmas knowing that people in the past took my things and either threw these away or sold them. I do not have my large Christmas icon I use to put out this time of year. I do not have a few other icons which went missing in the past.

Loss is what Christ came to earth to heal, but this is hard for us to apprehend, like my friend who does not believe that God wants to heal her of unwantedness and rejection from the womb.

Nativity by David Jones

Christ came, truly God and truly Man, to a small place called Bethlehem, so small many travelers of His days would not have paid any attention to it. The only reason the inns were full was that the census had called men and women back to the places of their tribal heritage. This small place had no housing for Christ, Who had to be born in a place where animals eat and sleep. His loss of the Glory of God could not be more poignant. Does this one fact help us face the pain of loss? It is fitting that the Saviour of Mankind came as a Child of Poverty, with nothing, no crib, no front door, only Joseph, Mary and the lowly ones called to come and see-the shepherds.

Loss makes holes in our hearts. Those holes can only be filled by Christ’s Love. The Babe in the manger with His Hands reaching out to us is asking us to love Him. The Bambino in the hay reminds us that loss is nothing to God, Who chose on purpose to become poor for our sake, to suffer the cold, and the lack of “civilisation” at His birth.

Loss surrounds the nativity scene. Even the three Magi’s gifts, as grand as they were at the time, pale in comparison with the grandeur of God. What is gold, frankincense, and myrrh compared with the experience of Isaiah, who in a vision saw the Seraphim praising God? We love the Three Kings because they left status and followed the star of their hearts to find Jesus. They were not sure what they would find, but knew it would be a Saviour, a God, a Man Who would die for the sins of the world. What they found was the most fragile, vulnerable and innocent Baby—the Incarnate One. I am sure these three wise men had to adjust their thoughts to what they encountered. We call them saints as surely their lives changed and they spread the good news of the Coming of the Kingdom of God on earth.

Can grief be overcome by a Baby, by THE Baby? The answer has to be “Yes,” as that is why Christ came—to take away Eternal Death, to free us from Original Sin, to give us God’s Own Life, in sanctifying grace, and to open the gates of heaven so we can share joy forever.

In the old days, December 24th was the feast day of Saint Adam and St. Eve, two of the people freed from hell by Christ in the Harrowing of Hell, which we proclaim every Sunday in the Creed. Christ’s descent into hell is not a one time occurrence, however. He descends with us into our private hells, our private times of feeling godless, abandoned, full of grief, even rejected by those who we thought loved us. In the old Mass for that feast day, the words which are sung during the night of the Easter Vigil were repeated in the Liturgy.

O truly necessary sin of Adam,

destroyed completely by the Death of Christ!

O happy fault

that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!

The Mass of December 24th echoed the Exsultet of the Vigil, the cry of the Triumph of the Cross over sin and death. How I wish that feast was never dropped from the calendar, so that all of us who grieve for some reason on the 24th can be comforted with the sublime truth of Adam’s sin leading to the Incarnation. The Garden of Eden is the door to the stable at Bethlehem.

I cannot say that my emotions are completely over the shock of last week, and the increasing pain of the cancer I am fighting, but I can say that I am experiencing a strange peace and detachment, as if God was reminding me of my death over and over again, that result of Adam’s sin which can only be overcome by Christ’s Victory on the Cross, and the Resurrection, the proof of that Victory.

For those, like me, who find this Christmas difficult to celebrate, I say look to Easter…look to the end game, the end of the story, in which we find, always, that “God Wins.” With tears in my eyes, let me end with The Exsultet. Happy Christmas may mean Joyful Christmas for some of us—the unfelt joy of St. Therese of Lisieux, but joy none the less. Happy Christmas from Supertradmum to Jay Toups and all the readers of his blog as well as all the Facebook and Twitter friends. Here is a vocal of the Exsultet and the words below. One year, the priest could not sing it and ask my dad, who has a wonderful tenor voice at the time, to do it for him. That was before permanent deacons! What an honour and what a memory for me…

Exult, let them exult, the hosts of heaven,

exult, let Angel ministers of God exult,

let the trumpet of salvation

sound aloud our mighty King’s triumph!

Be glad, let earth be glad, as glory floods her,

ablaze with light from her eternal King,

let all corners of the earth be glad,

knowing an end to gloom and darkness.

Rejoice, let Mother Church also rejoice,

arrayed with the lightning of his glory,

let this holy building shake with joy,

filled with the mighty voices of the peoples.

(Therefore, dearest friends,

standing in the awesome glory of this holy light,

invoke with me, I ask you,

the mercy of God almighty,

that he, who has been pleased to number me,

though unworthy, among the Levites,

may pour into me his light unshadowed,

that I may sing this candle’s perfect praises.)

(V. The Lord be with you.

R. And with your spirit.)

V. Lift up your hearts.

R. We lift them up to the Lord.

V. Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.

R. It is right and just.

It is truly right and just, with ardent love of mind and heart

and with devoted service of our voice,

to acclaim our God invisible, the almighty Father,

and Jesus Christ, our Lord, his Son, his Only Begotten.

Who for our sake paid Adam’s debt to the eternal Father,

and, pouring out his own dear Blood,

wiped clean the record of our ancient sinfulness.

These, then, are the feasts of Passover,

in which is slain the Lamb, the one true Lamb,

whose Blood anoints the doorposts of believers.

This is the night,

when once you led our forebears, Israel’s children,

from slavery in Egypt

and made them pass dry-shod through the Red Sea.

This is the night

that with a pillar of fire

banished the darkness of sin.

This is the night

that even now, throughout the world,

sets Christian believers apart from worldly vices

and from the gloom of sin,

leading them to grace

and joining them to his holy ones.

This is the night,

when Christ broke the prison-bars of death

and rose victorious from the underworld.

Our birth would have been no gain,

had we not been redeemed.

O wonder of your humble care for us!

O love, O charity beyond all telling,

to ransom a slave you gave away your Son!

O truly necessary sin of Adam,

destroyed completely by the Death of Christ!

O happy fault

that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!

O truly blessed night,

worthy alone to know the time and hour

when Christ rose from the underworld!

This is the night

of which it is written:

The night shall be as bright as day,

dazzling is the night for me,

and full of gladness.

The sanctifying power of this night

dispels wickedness, washes faults away,

restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to mourners,

drives out hatred, fosters concord, and brings down the mighty.

On this, your night of grace, O holy Father,

accept this candle, a solemn offering,

the work of bees and of your servants’ hands,

an evening sacrifice of praise,

this gift from your most holy Church.

But now we know the praises of this pillar,

which glowing fire ignites for God’s honor,

a fire into many flames divided,

yet never dimmed by sharing of its light,

for it is fed by melting wax,

drawn out by mother bees

to build a torch so precious.

O truly blessed night,

when things of heaven are wed to those of earth,

and divine to the human.

Therefore, O Lord,

we pray you that this candle,

hallowed to the honor of your name,

may persevere undimmed,

to overcome the darkness of this night.

Receive it as a pleasing fragrance,

and let it mingle with the lights of heaven.

May this flame be found still burning

by the Morning Star:

the one Morning Star who never sets,

Christ your Son,

who, coming back from death’s domain,

has shed his peaceful light on humanity,

and lives and reigns for ever and ever.

R. Amen.

By Supertradmum

JMJ, pray for us!

God is Good,