We wish you a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year! The two run together so naturally. Another year; who would have thought it so soon? The parish calendars came in, right after Thanksgiving. I hope you have picked one up by now; they are pretty good this year. I am grateful to the folks at Collins for providing them to us each year!
Already it is going to be 2014. Since I am a history buff, my mind runs immediately to realize this is the centenary of the outbreak of World War I. We are also still in the midst of the sesquicentennial of the Civil War. Okay, that may not be what is on your mind as we celebrate these holy days of peace and joy, but in my own defense I ask, how better to mark what peace we do have, than by recalling some of the alternatives?
But a day, a date, a calendar -- they signify something. What will this year mean when folks look back on it? What great historical events will have unfolded before us? Closer to home, that question is easier to answer, especially for some of our families.
June 4, July 22, July 25, September 12, November 9, November 23, and December 8 are already marked as world-changing, at least for the MacMillan, Mariconti, Baker, DellaCrosse, Beegle, Dennis, and Petnuch families, respectively. On those days, they welcomed newborn family members, new lives, never before seen on the face of the earth; lives whose unfolding lies before them, wrapped in mystery and promise.
Their calendars are already marked, though not by pen or text. Their calendars are marked by life and grace, and those days forever changed.
The very year that begins, 2014, is marked by the count of years since the world was changed by a life who is Life Himself. The way, the truth, and the life lay suckling at the breast of the mother who gave Him flesh. The world was changed, but the unfolding of that life still lay wrapped in mystery and promise.
We call it AD 2014, or Anno Domini, the Year of Our Lord. Every day, every date is changed by that day and what it welcomed into the light of day. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (Jn 1:5)
Our celebrations of this day and this birth unfold in real time. The liturgy of the Church marks hour by hour the entry into time of the eternal, that is, timeless God. Listen to the prayers, listen to the texts at the Mass you attend.
The five and nine o’clock Masses on Christmas Eve are Masses of Vigil, that is, keeping watch for what is about to happen. Christ is about to be born, and all the promises and prophecies of God to come and live with, come and save his people, are pregnant with the expectation of fulfillment.
It is in the silence of the night that God arrvives. The Mass at Midnight welcomes the birth of Christ. So few witnesses are present for the actual event; only the parents, and the animals of the stall, in whose feed-trough He is laid, foreshadowing the Eucharistic food His flesh is to become. Even the first to come, the shepherds who receive the news from the angels, arrive after the fact.
And so do all the other witnesses, all the rest of the world, learn about the birth of the Savior when the long darkness of the winter night gives way to the morning light. The Mass at Dawn, here at 8:15, rejoices in these encounters.
And ever since, we have lived in the light of love of God, made visible in the person of Christ. The Mass of Christmas Day, at eleven o’clock in the full light of the midwinter sun, weak by comparison, finds the work of salvation already underway, much as is the day itself, the feast, and the celebration well underway by that late hour. Those who come are already rejoicing, their anticipation satisfied, the gift received, the great Guest welcomed.
Each hour, each Mass, has a distinct character, as time itself is sanctified by the arrival of the living God. Each is a new encounter, a new beginning of salvation.
Each day God, who has entered the world and entered time, arrives to enter our lives. Each day new lives are welcomed into His world, arriving as he did, helpless, but bearing hope. Every life has the promise of the fullness of joy, the delight of peace, and the perfection of life that this one life made available that one day.
So we mark all our days and all our years from that day of that year. This Year of the Lord can and will be for each of us also a Year of Grace. Because God is with us.
And so speaking for Fathers McDonell and McCabe, all the pastoral staff and parochial team here at Saint Bernadette, it is my happy duty and blessed pleasure to assure you that I pray for you and your family, those closest to you, and those who are too far away, all the peace and joy of this truly holy day, and with an eye on the hand of the Infant King upon you, to wish you a Merry Christmas, and a happy, holy, and joyful New Year.