Sunday, December 26, 2010

Sunday within the Octave of Christmas

Galatians 4:1-7 / Luke 2:33-40

For many adults, the celebration of Christmas is an occasion to return, in thought and sentiment if not in fact, to childhood. Even the most progressive among us, those otherwise most embracing of change and novelty, will happily return to the sounds, sights and smells, the rites and customs, that introduced us long ago to greeting the infant King. In place of our daily obligations, the burdens and trials of our grown-up lives, we delight in the shiny tinsel and brightly colored lights, in the carols and cakes. Or, if we cannot manage to do so ourselves, we take vicarious delight in the joys of our children, our nieces and nephews, or any child in whose eyes we see again the boundless delight of a merry Christmas.

In doing so, we tend to forget what it was to be a child. To be sure, children enjoy Christmas, and many other things in life, with great abandon. Still, they also yearn to be grown up, to be adults, to enjoy that freedom and autonomy, as well as the full use of their mental and physical powers, that comes from being a rational animal. They know all to well, even if they cannot put it into words or even a clear concept, that they are under tutors and governors. They know all too well that their lives are characterized not so much by the freedom to pursue the good with the best of their skill, but rather only the freedom to receive the goods others older, and sometimes but not always wiser, have chosen to give.

This means, then, that wanting to return to childhood is, at root, unnatural. It is of the very essence of being a child to be oriented in everything, even in the most childish joy and play, towards becoming an adult. To be grown up means not to lose the joys of childhood, but rather to be able to pursue them with the dignity and freedom proper to being human, sharing no longer the safe but circumscribed life of the child's table, but rather partaking fully of the richer and more satisfying fare of the banquet hall.

St Paul means to remind us of this truth, no so much with regard to our biological age, but with an eye to our spiritual state. We are, he reminds us, no longer spiritual children. In light of the coming of the Lord in the flesh, we are no longer under tutors and governors, no longer serving under the elements of the world. Rather, we have been invited to share in the very life of the Father. Made brothers of the Son through his Incarnation, we have moved beyond merely knowing what it means to receive the Father's love and care. In place of this inestimable joy, we have been given the even greater and inexpressibly wondrous invitation to live the very life of God, to share, with the Son of God the love he receives from the Father, in the Holy Spirit.

Practically speaking, this means that the life of a Christian, even those of the most tender age, is directed not to the safely guarded and private delights of a child with his toys on Christmas morning, but to an open proclamation and a sharing of our joys with those who see no joy in their own life. As the Father sent his Son into the world, we are all of us, as heirs and sons moved beyond the tutelage of the Law into the life of the Spirit, called to live as our Father lives, and so to give as alms our goods both material and spiritual to those who long for them. Like Anna the prophetess, we are to speak of the coming of the Lord to all who hope for the redemption of Israel, speaking in both word and deed.

If Christmas directs us to think of the infant King, is does not and should not infantilize us. In the child who has been born to us, the son given to us, may we find not a summons back to childhood, but the happy sign of our emancipation and a signal of our freedom. In that newfound liberty to be generous as the Father has been generous to us, what should draw us back from giving to the poor all around us?

O almighty and everlasting God, direct our actions according to Thy good pleasure; that in the Name of Thy beloved Son, we may deserve to abound in good works.

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