Today’s gospel is a recollection of how the burial-clothes of Jesus were found in the tomb after his Resurrection. They are reminders of a painful death, his redeeming suffering. This makes us focus on what is real: Jesus’ suffering and the joy of his resurrected life. These clothes also recall the crib, the swaddling clothes of the baby Jesus. On Eastern icons, the two deliberately resemble: the crib points to the Cross.
This ‘frame’ is important. Whatever happens in our life, whatever exile we found ourselves in an overpowering cyber-reality, nevertheless, what is ‘real’, is more powerful than the compulsive hedonism with which this consumerist culture is devouring us.
This is a wonderful consolation: the Word of God makes us real! Capable of going against the stream and herald a real awakening!
The martyrdom of Saint Stephen is always a sudden break of the idyllic emotions of Christmas day. We awoke to the harsh reality that witness to Truth is a sacrifice.
I would like to read the scene of his martyrdom as the ‘sacrifice’ which we Christians all of us have to make in order to attain ‘spirituality’ or spiritual life. Spirituality can be defined that ‘extra-life’ on top of our routinely religious sentiments and deeds. We need to have an extra focus, an extra intent to ‘feel’ our deeds and payers. Without this, Christian life is just an ordinary life. Without the conscious effort to have ‘spirituality’, the church is without that extra life which God intended for us, our Lord’s disciples.
Stephen’s sufferings and death, his murder for his faith in Jesus as Saviour, highlights the value and the task, that Christians must go an extra mile. The Wisdom of the Tanya (written by the religious genius, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi /1745-1812/) prompts a healthy dialogue with us, Christians. In Chapter 38, he emphasises that the specific religious intent of a deed or religious act makes it alive. Through this conscious focus, we want to ‘feel’ and experience the good deed and our prayer. This experience of focus or feeling, by way of analogy, can be compared to the soul of the human being. Without this ‘extra’ of an intended spiritual life, the deeds are ‘dead’, they have no life. Routinely life and prayers are not enough. We need the conscious effort of discipleship; that of being disciples of Torah, or, in our case, Christians, of Jesus.
The Christmas crib, with its gentle devotions, and gentle lights, speak about the spirituality which we need to develop. The beauty of the Crib, with the new born Jesus, the Holy Family, and the surrounding visitors - Shepherds, animals, the three Kings - express the beauty of spiritual life. The scenes of our lives around the Crib come alive!
26 December 2017
Pope Benedict XVI sums up the message of Christmas Eve for us. The birth of Jesus on Christmas Eve is the interpretation of our own origin! He, the one, through whom all light and life entered the cosmos… He is the source of all created beings. Whether we know it or not, we are his children! The children of the light.
This is a beautiful night. A night when our Saviour was born. This eve at the Crib, is about our roots. The joy of Christmas is our deepest root. The lights of this beautiful night convey for us an interesting and important thought.
A human being who exercises free will and has free choice, is able to move around. The baby Jesus, our Saviour King, will grow end embark on a journey where he takes us with him. This life journey is a reminder that the human person is not rooted to one place. And very often a human being - because of our inquisitive and restless mind, our power of enquiry and actions - that human being feels a little lost; sometimes alienated. Because we got far from our roots, we can feel isolated.
As a human family, the searching beyond ourselves, our journeys often cost very dearly. Humankind, smaller communities, and as individuals, we feel this ‘loss’ when we start to move away from our Roots, from our sources.
In the light of this most beautiful night, we can be honest with ourselves. Sometimes we feel that we are away from our source and we don’t know where we are going! The crib with the Christmas tree are the most powerful symbols! The Christmas tree, has a biblical origin. The Bible tells us: the human person is compared to the tree of the field. This night reveals the secret: we belong to the Tree of Life through which Jesus brought about our redemption.
The crib and the Christmas tree remind us: just as the tree always knows its roots - it is rooted to its source - so also are Christians essentially rooted to their source. To this very Crib. And to this very Tree of Life and Light. This night reveals that we are rooted to the source of Mary, Joseph and Jesus. To this new life. To this Family.
However far we may wander, however distant we may move, we know within ourselves that we have these personal roots. And those roots will keep us, guide us, sustain us and lead us to our Salvation.
Today, as a community, we celebrate that the human family has a Saviour. Thanks be to God, we know this! However, as individuals we celebrate the fact that however distant as individuals we have moved from our potentials to love and be happy - Jesus, and the love of Mary and Joseph, as our roots, has marked us for good! Through the love of this community, through the love of our friends, and those who pray for us, we can always return to this Redeeming Love. Which Love, from this eve, mysteriously, will grow with us, will rely on us, just as we rely on Him, for the rest of our life. Amen.
These are verbal Icons, expressions of how the world is seen from Saint Augustine's..