As we look toward a new year of promise and hope, as we finish off the last of the Christmas cookies, and start thinking about re-packing decorations until next year, we might do well to take a moment or two and reflect: What are the voices of Christmas? What words did they speak to us? As the Christmas Carol asks: Do you hear what I hear?
We have been listening to the music and lyrics of carols; we have heard the inescapable music of the ad-men pushing their Christmas wares. We have listened to the promises of ancient prophets, and the challenging proclamation of John the Baptist. We have heard the voice of the Angel of God speaking to Zachary and Elizabeth, then to Mary and to Joseph.
We have heard the voice of an ancient Caesar declaring a census, which sent the Holy Family from the warmth and security of Nazareth to the cold, barren cave on the hillside of Bethlehem. We have listened to wise men from the East following their star and asking where they might find the new-born king. And finally we have heard the choirs of angels proclaiming to the shepherds and to the world: "Glory to God in high heaven, peace on earth to those on whom his favor rests." We followed those shepherds on Christmas morning and came once again, as they did, to find Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger.
But there are no voices from the Christmas crib. The infant is silent; Joseph and Mary do not speak; they are rapt in wonder and praise, treasuring all these things and reflecting on them in their hearts.
The Sounds of Christmas invite us to dwell not so much on the Infant in the Crib, but rather on the adult Jesus, baptized by John, anointed by the Spirit, and then identifying Himself fully with humanity's sinful, guilt-ridden condition. He stands with all human beings who yearn for a radical change of heart and life, who crave liberation from the power of sin and evil, who seek release from all forms of oppression - religious, political, social and economic.
The message of Christ Incarnate continues to present a timeless challenge to all people of good will as we begin this new year. It reminds us that Christ lives on among all people, inviting them to become members of His new community. He looks with compassion on our misery, and begs us to be different from the worldly and those without faith. He asks us to follow Him by overcoming our pride and selfishness, and to renounce the hoarding of material things, competing ruthlessly for success and controlling others at any cost.
The infant Jesus silently proclaimed this message by the circumstances of His birth - poverty, powerlessness, and simplicity. But it is the adult Jesus who lives the message, challenging political and religious systems, embracing radical poverty of spirit, and reaching out with compassion and liberation for all the oppressed.
It is the adult Jesus who stirs the profound longings in all of our hearts for true freedom, justice and peace, for ourselves, and for all of our brothers and sisters across the world. He invites us to commit ourselves more fully to His new community of the "church"; He begs us not to trivialize our membership by being satisfied with token and occasional gestures of Christianity, but to rededicate ourselves to follow His example more faithfully, and to strive even more forcefully to eliminate the "hoarding, climbing and controlling" in our own lives and in the world at large.
So what exactly did we hear on Christmas? What words does this Incarnation-event speak to us? What advice do they give us as we begin a new year? What promises does the Word-Made-Flesh bring?
It certainly speaks salvation and hope; it speaks freedom and peace. But each of us hears the voice of Christmas differently. As the Son of God takes our flesh and enters into human history, as his story becomes involved with our own individual stories - with your story and my story - the Word made flesh has something special and personal to say to each on of us.... and we need to listen carefully.
Emmanuel continues to speak to each of us who believe. He speaks of the faithfulness of our God, of His willingness to make the impossible happen, to fulfill our wildest dreams. The human family needs, as never before, to hear this message, to recognize and respond to this perennial invitation of Jesus, God's Son and our Brother; to join Him in the new community of shared love, peace and justice.
We who believe the miracle of Christmas must be like the shepherds in today's reading. We cannot stay in the manger, basking in the warmth of the Christmas star. We must return to our daily lives - as did the shepherds... and like them, we must make known God's presence and the Saving Word of Jesus to all those around us. Let us continue this work each day of the New Year; let us be God's holy people; let us be light in darkness, peacemakers and life-givers, in every aspect of our lives.
It is the song of our love and compassion for others in the ordinary circumstances of everyday living that announces: "Our God has come, Glory to God! Do you hear what I hear?"
A Healthy and Peace-filled New Year!