Via Media

Via Media


God does not allow himself to be shut out

posted by awelborn

From Pope Benedict’s homily at Midnight Mass:

Saint John, in his Gospel, went to the heart of the matter, giving added depth to Saint Luke’s brief account of the situation in Bethlehem: “He came to his own home, and his own people received him not” (Jn 1:11). This refers first and foremost to Bethlehem: the Son of David comes to his own city, but has to be born in a stable, because there is no room for him at the inn. Then it refers to Israel: the one who is sent comes among his own, but they do not want him. And truly, it refers to all mankind: he through whom the world was made, the primordial Creator-Word, enters into the world, but he is not listened to, he is not received.
These words refer ultimately to us, to each individual and to society as a whole. Do we have time for our neighbour who is in need of a word from us, from me, or in need of my affection? For the sufferer who is in need of help? For the fugitive or the refugee who is seeking asylum? Do we have time and space for God? Can he enter into our lives? Does he find room in us, or have we occupied all the available space in our thoughts, our actions, our lives for ourselves?

Thank God, this negative detail is not the only one, nor the last one that we find in the Gospel. Just as in Luke we encounter the maternal love of Mary and the fidelity of Saint Joseph, the vigilance of the shepherds and their great joy, just as in Matthew we encounter the visit of the wise men, come from afar, so too John says to us: “To all who received him, he gave power to become children of God” (Jn 1:12). There are those who receive him, and thus, beginning with the stable, with the outside, there grows silently the new house, the new city, the new world. The message of Christmas makes us recognize the darkness of a closed world, and thereby no doubt illustrates a reality that we see daily. Yet it also tells us that God does not allow himself to be shut out. He finds a space, even if it means entering through the stable; there are people who see his light and pass it on. Through the word of the Gospel, the angel also speaks to us, and in the sacred liturgy the light of the Redeemer enters our lives. Whether we are shepherds or “wise men” – the light and its message call us to set out, to leave the narrow circle of our desires and interests, to go out to meet the Lord and worship him. We worship him by opening the world to truth, to good, to Christ, to the service of those who are marginalized and in whom he awaits us.

In some Christmas scenes from the late Middle Ages and the early modern period, the stable is depicted as a crumbling palace. It is still possible to recognize its former splendour, but now it has become a ruin, the walls are falling down – in fact, it has become a stable. Although it lacks any historical basis, this metaphorical interpretation nevertheless expresses something of the truth that is hidden in the mystery of Christmas. David’s throne, which had been promised to last for ever, stands empty. Others rule over the Holy Land. Joseph, the descendant of David, is a simple artisan; the palace, in fact, has become a hovel. David himself had begun life as a shepherd. When Samuel sought him out in order to anoint him, it seemed impossible and absurd that a shepherd-boy such as he could become the bearer of the promise of Israel. In the stable of Bethlehem, the very town where it had all begun, the Davidic kingship started again in a new way – in that child wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. The new throne from which this David will draw the world to himself is the Cross. The new throne – the Cross – corresponds to the new beginning in the stable. Yet this is exactly how the true Davidic palace, the true kingship is being built. This new palace is so different from what people imagine a palace and royal power ought to be like. It is the community of those who allow themselves to be drawn by Christ’s love and so become one body with him, a new humanity. The power that comes from the Cross, the power of self-giving goodness – this is the true kingship. The stable becomes a palace – and setting out from this starting-point, Jesus builds the great new community, whose key-word the angels sing at the hour of his birth: “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth to those whom he loves” – those who place their will in his, in this way becoming men of God, new men, a new world.
Gregory of Nyssa, in his Christmas homilies, developed the same vision setting out from the Christmas message in the Gospel of John: “He pitched his tent among us” (Jn 1:14). Gregory applies this passage about the tent to the tent of our body, which has become worn out and weak, exposed everywhere to pain and suffering. And he applies it to the whole universe, torn and disfigured by sin. What would he say if he could see the state of the world today, through the abuse of energy and its selfish and reckless exploitation? Anselm of Canterbury, in an almost prophetic way, once described a vision of what we witness today in a polluted world whose future is at risk: “Everything was as if dead, and had lost its dignity, having been made for the service of those who praise God. The elements of the world were oppressed, they had lost their splendour because of the abuse of those who enslaved them for their idols, for whom they had not been created” (PL 158, 955f.). Thus, according to Gregory’s vision, the stable in the Christmas message represents the ill-treated world. What Christ rebuilds is no ordinary palace. He came to restore beauty and dignity to creation, to the universe: this is what began at Christmas and makes the angels rejoice. The Earth is restored to good order by virtue of the fact that it is opened up to God, it obtains its true light anew, and in the harmony between human will and divine will, in the unification of height and depth, it regains its beauty and dignity. Thus Christmas is a feast of restored creation. It is in this context that the Fathers interpret the song of the angels on that holy night: it is an expression of joy over the fact that the height and the depth, Heaven and Earth, are once more united; that man is again united to God. According to the Fathers, part of the angels’ Christmas song is the fact that now angels and men can sing together and in this way the beauty of the universe is expressed in the beauty of the song of praise. Liturgical song – still according to the Fathers – possesses its own peculiar dignity through the fact that it is sung together with the celestial choirs. It is the encounter with Jesus Christ that makes us capable of hearing the song of the angels, thus creating the real music that fades away when we lose this singing-with and hearing-with.
In the stable at Bethlehem, Heaven and Earth meet. Heaven has come down to Earth. For this reason, a light shines from the stable for all times; for this reason joy is enkindled there; for this reason song is born there. At the end of our Christmas meditation I should like to quote a remarkable passage from Saint Augustine. Interpreting the invocation in the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father who art in Heaven”, he asks: what is this – Heaven? And where is Heaven? Then comes a surprising response: “… who art in Heaven – that means: in the saints and in the just. Yes, the heavens are the highest bodies in the universe, but they are still bodies, which cannot exist except in a given location. Yet if we believe that God is located in the heavens, meaning in the highest parts of the world, then the birds would be more fortunate than we, since they would live closer to God. Yet it is not written: ‘The Lord is close to those who dwell on the heights or on the mountains’, but rather: ‘the Lord is close to the brokenhearted’ (Ps 34:18[33:19]), an expression which refers to humility. Just as the sinner is called ‘Earth’, so by contrast the just man can be called ‘Heaven’” (Sermo in monte II 5, 17). Heaven does not belong to the geography of space, but to the geography of the heart. And the heart of God, during the Holy Night, stooped down to the stable: the humility of God is Heaven. And if we approach this humility, then we touch Heaven. Then the Earth too is made new. With the humility of the shepherds, let us set out, during this Holy Night, towards the Child in the stable! Let us touch God’s humility, God’s heart! Then his joy will touch us and will make the world more radiant. Amen.

Image Source



Advertisement
Comments read comments(9)
post a comment
Tribal

posted December 25, 2007 at 2:21 am


Merry Christmas, Amy!



report abuse
 

Jeff

posted December 25, 2007 at 10:00 am


Merry Christmas, Fort Wayne and all who dwell in her; i came looking for the better translation of what Cardinal Foley tried to do “on the fly” — i guessed from the unusually halting nature of the English language account that il Papa was doing it again, either adjusting on the spot or at least working up his preaching text too close to the eve itself for the Communications Office to have a fluid English text ready for the now-Cardinal.
The image of the stable as a ruined palace, and the expansion of that metaphor into Christ-for-us at Christmas, was a delight for me and my wife as we wrapped and readied for today.
Blessings, all!



report abuse
 

Zadok the Roman

posted December 25, 2007 at 1:22 pm


Amy,
May you and yours have a blessed Christmas!
Z.



report abuse
 

Kathy

posted December 25, 2007 at 7:04 pm


Oh! There’s a unity of heaven and earth in the liturgy!
And here I thought that the dignity of liturgical song was its “ritual character.”



report abuse
 

xavier

posted December 26, 2007 at 8:19 am


Amy:
Benedict’s homily has profound implications for the Moslems and erroneous conception of God and the godhead. Hopefully some will hear it and reflect
xavier



report abuse
 

Rose

posted December 26, 2007 at 8:42 pm


Xavier, could you please elaborate? I would like to know a little more about the theology behind your comment.
I just read the letter of the 138 Muslim scholars accepting the Pope’s invitation to dialogue and was quite unsettled by the subtle agenda they are trying to push, that the
common ground between Islam and Christianity is Jesus Christ. But I know that in Islam, Jesus is revered as a prophet, not as God; by pushing their own concept of Jesus Christ as a “common point of reference”, these Islamic scholars are subtly trying to co-opt Christianity, under the guise of inter-religious dialogue.
Pope Benedict is engaged in a titanic battle for the future of Christianity and so few, even among his own flock, understand it. I am not even sure that he has helpers, he seems to stand alone as a force to be reckoned with. Maybe it’s the season of heightened sensitivities but I glimpse a new kind of powerful heresy-a combination of secular humanism, the Jesus seminar type of Protestant Christianity and this new form of moderate Islam which tries to co-opt the figure of Jesus Christ and thereby confuse and undermine Christianity. I hope I am wrong.
BTW, Midnight Mass and the Urbi et Orbi message were outstanding; so much better than even last year.
Rose
and would like to know more about the theology behind it. Thank you.
Rose



report abuse
 

xavier

posted December 29, 2007 at 9:20 am


Rose:
Read this post by Robert Spencer. Although it’s about science, the theological implications are quite straightforward about Islam’s erroneous conception of God.
God isn’t the capcrious landlord who send the prophets (I exclude Mohammed) to beat us to a pulp because we’re too stiffnecked to follow him nor the arbitrary cacique who changes the rules to constantly show off how powerful and streetsmart so we totally doofus humans will be constantly awed and snookered by him.
God has 99 names in Islam but the Moslems left out the most important: love
xavier



report abuse
 

Thomas (Ireland)

posted December 31, 2007 at 5:08 pm


You might be interested in ‘True Source of the Sodality Spirit’.
It is available at: http://www.lulu.com/content/1699282
God bless you!



report abuse
 

Thomas

posted January 7, 2008 at 8:38 am


breaking news:
from: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article3142511.ece
Pope Benedict XVI has instructed Roman Catholics to pray “in perpetuity” to cleanse the Church of paedophile clergy. All dioceses, parishes, monasteries, convents and seminaries will be expected to organise continuous daily prayers to express penitence and to purify the clergy.
Vatican officials said that every parish or institution should designate a person or group each day to conduct continuous prayers for the Church to rid itself of the scandal of sexual abuse by clergy. Alternatively, churches in the same diocese could share the duty. Prayer would take place in one parish for 24 hours, then move to another.
Vatican watchers said that there was no known precedent for global prayer on a specific issue of this kind. There are about one billion Roman Catholics worldwide.
The instruction was sent to bishops by Cardinal Cláudio Hummes of Brazil, head of the Vatican Congregation for the Clergy. He told L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, that he was acting in the Pope’s name. The Pope wanted Catholics to pray for the “mercy of God for the victims of the grave situations caused by the moral and sexual conduct of a very small part of the clergy”, he said.



report abuse
 

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the beliefnet.com terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to beliefnet.com and may be used by beliefnet.com in accordance with the agreements.



Previous Posts

There is nothing I shall want
A couple of weeks ago, a memorial Mass for Michael was held here in Birmingham at the Cathedral. The bishop presided and offered a very nice, even charming homily in which he first focused on the Scripture readings of the day, and then turned to Michael, whom he remembered, among other things, as on

posted 9:24:16am Mar. 05, 2009 | read full post »

Revolutionary Road - Is it just me?
Why am I the only person I know..or even "know" in the Internet sense of "knowing"  - who didn't hate it? I didn't love it, either. There was a lot wrong with it. Weak characterization. Miscasting. Anvil-wielding mentally ill prophets.But here's the thing.Whether or not Yates' original novel in

posted 9:45:04pm Mar. 04, 2009 | read full post »

Books for Lent
No, I'm not going to ask you about your Lenten reading lists...although I might.Not today, though. This post is about giving books to others. For Lent, and a long time after that. You know how it goes during Lent: Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving, right?Well, here's a worthy recipient for your hard-

posted 9:22:07pm Mar. 04, 2009 | read full post »

Why Via Media
How about....because I'm lame and hate thinking up titles to things? No?Okay...how about...St. Benedict? Yes, yes, I know the association with Anglicanism. That wasn't invovled in my purpose in naming the joint, but if draws some Googling Episcopalians, all the better.To tell the truth, you can bl

posted 8:54:17pm Mar. 04, 2009 | read full post »

Brave Heart?
I don't know about you, but one of effects of childbirth on me was a compulsion to spill the details. All of them.The whole thing was fascinating to me, so of course I assumed everyone else should be fascinated as well in the recounting of every minute of labor, describing the intensity of discomfor

posted 10:19:45pm Mar. 03, 2009 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.