As we all know, the past couple of years have been very painful for most of the world. The evil of war in Ukraine and other places throughout the world, the deadly danger of COVID and now the FLU and RSV, along with senseless violence and other sins against one another might tempt us to come to this Christmas of 2022 with a sense of fear and despair. And yet the familiar carol, Joy to the World, that we will sing boldly and loudly this Christmas is a reminder of why, even in the midst of fear and dread, we rejoice that once again Christ's promise of bringing light into darkness is renewed.
Like the people of Oberndorf in the Austrian Alps in 1818, we also will celebrate this Christmas without organ music. Though we were unable to find an organist for this Christmas at St. Peter's we have talented singers who will lead us all to raise our voices singing Joy to the World and other familiar Christmas carols. When we conclude our Christmas Masses this weekend we will conclude singing......“Joy to the world! the Lord is come; Let earth receive her King; Let every heart prepare him room, And heaven and nature sing, And heaven and nature sing, And heaven and nature sing.” And may our voices not only proclaim loudly and boldly our faith, our joy in God become human like us; may our singing also remind each of us of our own call to bring Jesus to others.
To those who come regularly here to St. Peter's, to our visitors, and to anyone who has joined us for this glorious celebration of Christmas, I greet you in the words of the angel to the shepherds in Luke’s Gospel, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.” (Luke 2:10) We welcome everyone to this celebration of the birth of the Savior and encourage you to join us whenever you can to seek God's grace and strength here in this sacred space on Madison Street.
A few days before Christmas of 1223, St. Francis of Assisi asked his good friend, a man named John, who lived in the Rieti Valley of central Italy to come and visit him. St. Francis said to him, “If you would like us to celebrate this feast day of the Lord in Greccio, then go there ahead of me and prepare what I tell you. I would like to portray the Child born in Bethlehem and to see somehow with my bodily eyes the hardship he underwent because he lacked all a newborn’s needs, the way he was placed in a manger and how he lay on the hay between the ox and donkey.” (cf. Thomas of Celano, First Life) And from that humble request the tradition of the Nativity scene has down through time reminded us of the birth of Christ.
We come together this Christmas 2022 with our own image of the Nativity scene, here in church, but united with St. Francis and countless others down the ages who have come to adore Jesus Our Lord and King. In the midst of presents and Santa Claus, bringing our laughter and tears, our frequent or occasional practice of the faith we all come today to worship together Emmanuel, “God become one with us”. The Nativity scene reminds us how “Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness…. becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.” (Phil. 2:8) As we gather to celebrate this Christmas season of 2022, may we all bow down in humble adoration of the Lord of the Universe……the infant Jesus Christ!
A few weeks ago, Pope Francis shared some reflections on the Nativity scene and Christmas tree in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican. I invite you to reflect upon the Pope's words below:
The tree and Nativity display are two signs that continue to charm young and old. The tree, with its lights, reminds us of Jesus who comes to illuminate our darkness, our existence often closed up in the shadow of sin, fear and pain. And it suggests to us a further reflection: like trees, people too need roots. Because only if it is rooted in good soil can it stay firm, grow, “mature”, and resist the winds that shake it, becoming a point of reference to those who look at it. But, dear friends, without roots none of this can happen; without firm foundation it remains unstable. It is important to safeguard the roots, in life as well as faith. In this regard, the apostle Paul reminds us of the foundation in which to root our lives in order to remain firm: he says to remain “rooted in Jesus Christ” (Col 2:7). This is what the Christmas tree reminds us of: to be rooted in Jesus Christ.
And so we come to the Nativity scene, which speaks to us of the birth of the Son of God who became man to be close to each one of us. In its genuine poverty, the Nativity scene helps us to rediscover the true richness of Christmas, and to purify ourselves of so many aspects that pollute the Christmas landscape. Simple and familiar, the Nativity scene recalls a Christmas that is different from the consumerist and commercial Christmas: it is something else; it reminds us how good it is for us to cherish moments of silence and prayer in our days, often overwhelmed by frenzy. Silence fosters contemplation of the Child Jesus, helps us to become intimate with God, with the fragile simplicity of a tiny newborn baby, with the meekness of his being laid down, with the tender affection of the swaddling clothes that envelop him.
Roots and contemplation: the tree teaches us about roots, the Nativity scene invites us to contemplation. Let us not forget these two human and Christian attitudes. And if we truly want to celebrate Christmas, let us rediscover through the Nativity scene the surprise and amazement of smallness, the smallness of God, who makes himself small, who is not born in the splendour of appearances, but in the poverty of a stable. And to meet Him one must reach Him there, where He is; one must lower oneself, one must make oneself small, leave all vanity behind, to arrive where He is. And prayer is the best way to say thank you before this gift of free love, to say thank you to Jesus who wishes to enter our homes and our hearts. Yes, God loves us so much that he shares our humanity and our lives. He never leaves us by ourselves, He is at our side in all circumstances, in joy as in sorrow. Even in the worst moments, He is there, because He is the Emmanuel, the God with us, the light that illuminates the darkness and the tender presence that accompanies us on our journey.
(Pope Francis, 3 December 2022, at the Vatican)
The beauty of the Church, the music, the liturgy and indeed all the wonderful things about St. Peter's Church this Christmas Season is due to the hard work and dedication of many, many people. Thanks to our great parish staff, dedicated volunteers, the Franciscan Friars and so many others, we are able to continue to provide a place of prayer and peace here in the Loop, continuing a presence that was begun in 1846.
As we gather to celebrate our Christmas Masses, we thank all those who helped clean and decorate the church for Christmas. We give thanks to everyone who contributes to help fund our ministry here in the Loop. Your faithful support even in these difficult times helps keep St. Peter's open for all who come seeking the peace of Christ. This Christmas Weekend, we give thanks to our singers, Eucharist ministers, readers, ushers/greeters and everyone who has helped in our Christmas celebration. May God bless you all!
On behalf of the Parish staff and the Franciscan Friars, I wish you and your family a Blessed Christmas season. May our celebration of the birth of our Savior remind each of us of our Baptismal call to faithfully follow the Lord Jesus. May God bless everyone this holy Christmas Season!