Christmas: The beginning of the Resurrection…
(CUSA) – Despite the shadow of death, Christmas begins the celebration of salvation that culminates with Easter.
The baby wrapped in swaddling clothes as a shroud is alive, just as the Resurrected Jesus, now and forever. —Ed.
BISHOP ROBERT MORLINO—
Please let me first wish you every blessing of Christmas, and abundant blessings for the year to come — blessings of joy, health, and above all, always deeper faith.
I hope that you are continuing to live in the glow of the Christmas season, for we should remember that Christmas is not something that begins at Thanksgiving (or even as soon as Halloween has ended) and ends when presents are returned on December 26.
Our commemoration of Christmas should start on Christmas Eve and carry forward through the Epiphany and beyond. For indeed, Christmas should serve as an annual reminder of the tremendous gift and mystery of the Incarnation.
Christmas is a mystery, and there is a danger, between the commercialism and the outwardness of Christmas (all of the arguments about if and where you can put a Nativity Scene, and how you greet people), that the fact that Christmas is a mystery gets lost.
Christmas is a time when budgets get challenged, when people get defensive about their beliefs or lack of beliefs, and now where people have all kinds of parties as an excuse to eat and drink too much! (Not that I am immune from the fault of eating too much!) But Christmas is so much more!
Christmas is a mystery. And Christmas really is the beginning of the revelation of the Easter Mystery, of the path of our salvation. The Easter Mystery of course, is that Christ suffered, died, and rose.
And in reality that’s the core of the Christmas Mystery too. But it comes at us in a slightly different way.
We have, in the letter to the Hebrews, that beautiful passage (Heb. 10:5-7), “The temple sacrifices and the sin offerings I sought not. But a body you have prepared for me . . . and lo, I said, behold I come.” St. Paul is talking here about the Incarnation.
The Eternal Word did not want sacrifices and sin offerings. The Word came to sacrifice Himself in the flesh. Since He came to sacrifice Himself in the flesh, taking on the body meant experiencing death, which was a sacrificial death.
On Christmas, Jesus takes His body in the flesh — a body which will be subjected to death — through which He is proclaiming His own sacrificial priesthood. The Word is proclaiming the Easter Mystery too.
“She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger (Lk. 2:7).” This image of the Baby Jesus being wrapped and laid to rest should actually call to mind the wrapping of the crucified Lord in a burial shroud and His laying in the tomb.
From the beginning, we have a very subtle foreshadowing of His passion, death, and Resurrection. In both cases, we have someone who is alive wrapped tight, as if for burial.
Now, it is certainly fine to recall the beautiful image of a tiny baby who is, in fact, Emmanuel and Savior of the Universe! But the way that Italians present the Baby Jesus doesn’t point to the total reality.
When you see depictions of Baby Jesus in an Italian Nativity Scene, Jesus is usually sucking His big toe. The Italians love that! (And they just want to go and grab Jesus by the cheek and say, “oh aren’t you a cutie!”)
But Luke gives us the image of the baby wrapped as if in a burial shroud. Someone wrapped in a burial shroud who is alive. What’s that? That’s the Resurrection!
So the suffering, death, and resurrection of the Easter Mystery are identical to the suffering, death, and resurrection of the Christmas Mystery. Christmas is the beginning of the revelation of the Easter Mystery.
And so, yes, Christmas is a time of joy and wonder. It’s time to look upon the infant Jesus and wonder at God’s Plan, but it should point us also to the tremendous mystery of our own salvation and how it is that God wants to accomplish that.
The reality of both Christmas and Easter being parts of one and the same mystery means that both at Christmas and Easter, there should be a special place in our hearts for the sick and the suffering. The sick and the suffering often are those who experience themselves as overshadowed by death. They experience themselves as joined to the sacrificial priesthood of Christ.
One of the problems with our culture is that it’s considered normal not to be sick and it’s considered normal not to suffer.
If someone is sick or suffering, something is terribly wrong; that’s how we are. And we want a pill — relief that’s just a swallow away. And, especially at Christmas, there is a temptation for those who are sick and suffering to feel even more desolate, while the rest of the world seems to be enjoying “normalcy.”
And yet, in His Nativity in swaddling clothes, and in His death wrapped up in swaddling clothes, Jesus makes illness and suffering the new normal; He redeems that too. And that’s how St. John Paul the Great could always say, “I thank God for my suffering. I am closer to Christ because of my illness.”
Illness and suffering become the new normal for somebody who believes in Jesus.
We sign up for it when we’re baptized and confirmed. So that person shouldn’t be thinking, “Why me?!” when suffering strikes.
They recognize that from the moment of His birth, Jesus was offering an example that the realities of human life are not something He was doing away with, but rather something that He was bringing close to His own heart.
It’s the way you enter into the Christmas Mystery and the Easter Mystery.
So Christmas and Easter are times when we should reach out in a special way to those in a special way who are sick and who are suffering.
In drawing closer to them, we are drawn closer to the Mystery of Christ.
As you travel and visit over Christmas and the New Year, there will be people you run into who are sick and suffering. So maybe we should take the time and greet them as we would the Lord.
Maybe we shouldn’t just run into the bedroom for a quick hello, and then run back to the party. Maybe we should remember to get closer to the one who is sick and suffering and try to show them the love of Jesus.
If we do that, that is the best way for us to enter more deeply into the Mystery which is Easter and into the Mystery which is Christmas — one and the same Mystery.
So please celebrate with a lot of joy, with a lot of love, and with an eye on Jesus, who came into this world as a baby and who redeemed the suffering of this world, making it a way to draw closer to Him both now and in Eternity.
I wish you all the most blessed Christmas. Thank you for taking the time to read this. Praised be Jesus Christ!
This column originally appeared in the Madison Catholic Herald.