Brief synopsis of the readings: The readings we hear on Christmas depend on when we attend mass. There are different readings for Christmas Eve, Mass at Midnight, Mass at Dawn, and Mass During the Day. I’ve chosen the readings for Midnight Mass. This should come as no surprise but we find our first reading in Isaiah. The prophet describes a people who have walked in darkness and have now seen a great light. A son is given to them who will be called “Wonder-Counselor, Mighty-God, Eternal-Father, Prince-of-Peace.” Our Gospel, from Luke, recounts how Joseph and the pregnant Mary travel from where they live in Nazareth to Joseph’s ancestral home of Bethlehem. Unable to find lodging they slept in a barn. During that time Mary gave birth and they placed their newborn in a trough that was used to feed the cattle. Meanwhile nearby shepherds were visited by an angel who told them that “a savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”
Merry Christmas everyone! Let us celebrate the birth of Jesus, and let us celebrate the intersection of reason and faith.
Nearly from the time we’ve become humans we’ve wondered where we came from. Did we just appear or were we created by someone or something? I’m indebted to the author Karen Armstrong who studied how the earliest humans looked to the sky to understand who we were and whose we were.
As children we were told that God created Adam and Eve and told them who God was. We knew who God was because God told us. Our faith history is simple: God tells us what to do and we do it, or we don’t do it. And our choice determines whether we will be saved or condemned. There is no reason, only faith.
But our ability to reason differentiates us from all other life. No other animal wonders how we began or what will happen to us after we die. People of faith, from our earliest days, have looked at our ability to reason as a tool to understand not only who we are but also how we got here. St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) spoke about how all movement is caused by some other movement (if we see a ball rolling we know somebody pushed it). But if we trace it back far enough we find the “unmoved mover,” that is, something that started the first ball rolling.
Recognizing that I’m racing through history, it’s worth noting that the idea of a Supreme Being made sense to many of our ancestors. The idea that our origins began with a God who created us held an appeal. And, peeling back layers of onion, we revered the idea that this God was not only all powerful, but all loving. Our reason told us that we were created by a Creator who wanted to spread love into other beings. God created all life but chose only humans to be in his own image.
I don’t remember who wrote this but an author wrote about this in terms of a book writer. The writer creates characters and a narrative for no other reason than that he has a book inside him that needs to come out. But his characters have no ability to know the author unless the author reveals himself to him. When this happens his characters can then use their reason to try to understand the author.
But God didn’t only create us and watched us. He didn’t only create us and introduce himself to us. God loved us so much that he crashed through the barrier between us. He became one of us.
Our reason, honed over thousands of years, gave us belief in God. And other religions have done the same: the idea of worshiping our creator sounds reasonable.
But only Christianity joins the divine and the human in one person. The birth of Jesus goes beyond reason, beyond anything we could have figured out on our own. We recognize this only with the eyes of faith.
As we read this over 2000 years later it’s an easy reality to forget. So much of what we see and hear can make us believe that God is distant, that God has walked away. We live in a world of 24 hour news and up to the minute reporting of violence, disease, and conflict. We are aware of suffering in ways that our ancestors never would have known and that can lead us to believe that we are going in a bad direction.
Christmas calls us not to ignore reason, but to recognize that reason takes a back seat to faith. Our faith tells us that God’s love and choice to crash into our darkness wasn’t a mistake or something God now regrets. Our faith tells us this newborn child born in a feeding trough with obscure parentage has never left us and never will.
And so let us celebrate Christmas 2019 with a recognition that our faith brings us much more than we can reasonably expect.