Reflection on Christmas

by Fr. Kevin Canty, CM (National Director), published in AMM Bulletin Christmas 2023.

In our first reading from Isaiah for the Christmas Day Mass, the prophet Isaiah announces the return of the Israelites from exile in terms that speak of “good tidings”. The Hebrew word for good tidings lies at the root of the New Testament ‘evangelion’ or gospel. Paul took up this very text and applied it to his own apostolic work of preaching the gospel in Romans 10:15, and it probably influenced Jesus’ own proclamation of his message of the kingdom or reign of God.

The use of the passage in the liturgy for Christmas suggests another application. It can be referred to the angelic proclamation at the nativity. This is indeed a proclamation of good tidings, a proclamation of salvation, an announcement of the beginning of the dawn of God’s reign. It is in the annunciation that the church sees the return of Yahweh to Zion to comfort his people and to Jerusalem. The angel at the nativity, Paul in his apostleship, and the church today all make the same proclamation: ‘Your God reigns’ – through the sending of Jesus into the world.

When the Israelites were about to cross through Moab on their way from Egypt to the promised land, Balak the Moabite king, feared they would take over his country. He commissioned Balaam a pagan diviner or seer to curse the Israelites and render them powerless. But God would not permit Baalam even to utter the words of the curse. Four times he made the attempt, but on each occasion his words turned into a blessing. (Book of Numbers 24:2-7, 15-17). This Balaam incident symbolizes God’s providential care of his people and the fact that salvation comes from his power alone and not from any human resources. By all odds the Israelites should have vanished from the earth long before the coming of the Messiah. Apart from the golden era of David and Solomon, their history was generally marked by religious infidelities and military defeats culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 587 BC.

In Matthew 8:5-8, there is the story of the centurion who pleads with Jesus to come and cure his servant. He had the faith to believe that Jesus possessed the power to cure his paralysed servant, that he needed Jesus, and he had the humility to admit that he himself could do nothing to help his servant, that he needed Jesus. The faith and humility of this centurion can serve to remind us of what our attitude should be during this season of Advent as we prepare to celebrate Christmas. Jesus came into this world to cure the human race paralysed by sin. He wanted to free us of sin, the spiritually crippling disease so that we could live a full, human life as children of God. First, we must have faith that Jesus, and Jesus alone, has the power to hep us. Often when Jesus might ask us what we would want him to do for us, he follows this question with another one, ‘Do we really believe that he can do this for us? ’ Jesus offers us his healing power in our life of prayer and in the Sacraments, especially in the Eucharist. To help us grow in faith and humility, the Church has adopted the words of the centurion and put them on our lips, but before we receive the Eucharist.

Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, But only say the word, and my soul shall be healed

Despite all of the evil and hatred in our world now, we should never fall into a pessimistic or despairing spirit. We may not be too optimistic about the future, but we should never lack hope. No matter what others might do, our concern should be to work with God in his purifying action by cleansing ourselves of sin here and now, of whatever holds us back from a firm faith and hope in Jesus, born at Christmas, but the one who shared our life to the full, who suffered, died and rose from the dead, so that we might live in his presence now and for all eternity with him in Heaven. Let our prayer aways be:

Lord, in your mercy keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Saviour Jesus Christ. For thr Kingdom, he power and the glory are yours, now and forever. Amen.