As members of the human race, we share a lot of common experiences and emotions. We have our moments of joys and triumphs, our moments of happiness and elation. On the flip side, we also do know that we have encountered sadness and sorrow as well. One of the most damaging things that a human person can go through in life in terms of feelings is to feel worthless and without value. This is when a person’s dignity is stripped away and left with little or nothing to cherish or love.
I hope that it has never happened to you, but maybe there have been times when you were told by either your parents or your teachers, in their moments of anger and fury, that you are useless or hopeless as a person. Hearing these things does nothing to see ourselves as persons of value and worth. But the truth is that each one of us is of great value and has an immense worth – not for the things that we can do, but for the persons that you and I are.
What we are celebrating today – the incarnation of God, where God became one of us, is precisely this. God is not telling us that we have worth. God is showing us this in concrete, physical, tangible form. My Christmas reflection has been partly inspired by something I came across when I read something from a spiritual great, Fr Richard Rohr.
It was back in 1847 in France, that a parish priest asked a wine merchant and poet by the name of Placede Cappeau to write a poem for Christmas. He came up with a poem entitled “Midnight, Christians”, and it was later that these words were put to music by Adolphe Charles Adam, another Frenchman, to become immortalized as the Christmas Carol “O Holy Night”. One of the most theologically and spiritually sound lines in the hymn tells us what happened when the incarnation took place – Till he appeared, and the soul felt its worth. Some translations have it as the “spirit” felt its worth. They essentially mean the same thing.
You see, none of us is worthless and without value. Cappeau must have had a deep sense of this. No matter what we may have been told by angry parents or disenchanted employers and no matter what we may have done in our stupidest of times. And all of us have met them in our lives.
A lot of us have been told by stores, advertising agencies and misguided friends and relations about what they think Christmas is about. Some songs have even done that rather successfully. It’s not about giving or receiving gifts, it’s not about reindeer, or snow (especially not in hot and humid Singapore), and it’s certainly not about mommy kissing Santa Claus. These have been added on through the years and for various reasons, and what they tend to do is to take away or mask the one reason for Christmas, and if we don’t strip that all away, we can end up thinking year after year, that Christmas is about those things. Well, if you want a good reason for coming to Church on Christmas day, it is to be able to take away all those trimmings and décor, take away all those layers and layers of added meanings, to come to the one main reason for Christmas so that we can leave Church with something that is basic, something that is at the very heart of the Christmas message.
And that message, that story, that truth, is that God wanted our humanity which we share in a broken and sinful way, to know that it is worth loving, that it is worth saving, and that it is has worth. Now if that present that you were given tells you that message, then it has done what it’s supposed to do. If that Christmas hug that you give, or have received imparts that message to you or from you, then you have given or have received Christmas. But do remember that it all started first with God giving us himself, embracing our humanity with his divinity on a very holy night, slightly more than 2000 years ago. This is the marvel of Christmas, and this is what we need to remember not just at Christmastime, but hopefully, every moment of our lives.
The incarnation was inconceivable before Christmas. God mixing right in with humanity was simply unheard of. But that which was unheard of, that which was so silently hoped for, was something that was made possible only by the grace of God when the Word, the hitherto silent Word, was made flesh. Back in 1947, when US Air Force test pilot Charles Elwood “Chuck” Yeager broke the sound barrier for the first time, many thought that it was something to be marveled at.
What many don’t realize is that long before that, when the Word was made flesh, the sound barrier was broken by the Word himself - in a more incredible, inconceivable and, yes, silent way.
Blessed and Holy Christmas everybody.