If you get some quality time with your beloved, whether for a first date or a fiftieth anniversary, do you fill that time with monologues about yourself? This can be the yardstick we use for our conversation and communion with the One who loves us, loved us first, and loves us more.
Back in the 1960’s, Father Avery Dulles, SJ, was living and working in Baltimore, and helping out at nearby Ss. Philip and James Church. It was the time of turmoil after the Second Vatican Council, and the lid was off the liturgy. Experimentation and self-expression were the watchwords. He arrived at the parish one Sunday to find that someone had hung a banner from the ambo (remember the halcyon days of handmade banners?) that proclaimed “God Is Other People.”
Later in his remarkable life, when he was widely recognized as the leading theologian of the United States, he received the “red hat” from Blessed Pope John Paul II and became Cardinal Dulles. He enjoyed recounting that incident in Baltimore, saying he wanted nothing so much as to have a large marker, so he could lean down from the ambo and put a comma after the word “other.” God is other, people! God is not us.
So, yes, in fact, “We Are Called,” and “We Are the Body of Christ.” Both are true. But who is the subject of such songs, and who the intended audience? Both enclose in their circular gaze the self-centered singers, and thereby close out the One toward whom all glory, laud and honor is due.
This closed circle was our reality, the reality of all mankind, and it was miserable -- until that moment when God in His wisdom broke in to it. Where there was only the darkness of sinful man, God chose to pitch His tent, and dwell among us. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (Jn 1:5)
The other evening I was driving with Fr. McDonell and put on my old mix of Christmas music. Though I get pretty immersed in the waiting aspect of Advent, I told him that if I do not make an effort to start listening to Christmas music by Gaudete Sunday, I will not have a homily for Christmas.
That got me reflecting that the treasury of great Christmas music is the best music there is. This music is so excellent, so beloved, and so irresistible that it makes its way into malls and parties and ice rinks and even television and radio. Right alongside all the generic seasonal stuff about snowmen and reindeer and chestnuts, trees and parties and cheer, there is the unambiguous announcement of the birth of God in Jesus.
Because God became man, we can sing to Him. Because He has a face, we can sing about him and describe Him. Because he has a home and a mother, we can announce and identify Him, and invite people to worship Him -- all with songs that are better than any commercial advertising could ever be.
These songs are loved because they are great, and they are great because they are about Jesus. He is Joy to the World in the middle of the Silent Night. Let our voices unite in giving Glory to the Newborn King, for at the heart of our festive assembly is more than the sum of our own efforts, more than just us; here is Emmanuel -- God with us. O come, O come!