“Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.”
Anyone who thinks that the Christmas story is all angel song and starlit nights has not read the whole story. There’s Herod and his henchmen and the flight into Egypt and old Simeon’s prophecy, “A sword of sorrow will pierce your heart.” Read the Christmas story carefully and you find that the shadow of the Cross falls over the manger.
A poor couple from Nazareth comes to the Temple. Too poor to offer a young lamb for sacrifice, they bought two turtle-doves from the animal tenders. They come to ritually ransom Mary’s son. The firstborn male-child of the family belonged to God and must be bought back. It was a day of great excitement and joy. Mary and Joseph had completed the rites; the next family stepped up. They had just turned to leave when an old man and women pushed through the crowd. Simeon stretched out his arms in a gesture of wanting to hold the baby. His eyes explored the tiny face and hands. The baby tugged at his great gray beard. Then Simeon smiled and asked, “What name have you given your son?” “Yeshua,” Joseph answered.
“Indeed, you have named him well; this child will save his people. Now I can depart this life in peace because my eyes have seen what God has promised. The prophets longed to see what you and I see! There is cause for great joy here. But look, you must also know that the world will be turned upside-down because of your son. Many shall rise but many shall fall on his word. I can see a sword of sorrow ahead for you. Now comes the hard part.”
My friends, I read it once on a Christmas card, “After the angel songs have faded, and the shepherds have gone back to their flocks and the wise men have returned home – then the real work of Christmas begins.” It is the sobering truth of the holy feast we celebrate: the most important thing and the most difficult work is letting Christ be born and come to full stature in us in our daily lives. The joy of Christmas is still with us; the hard part of Christmas is ahead of us. Can we do what Sirach and St. Paul challenge us to for the next for another 361 days? Can we treat the members of our families with the respect and affection they deserve? Can we forgive whatever grievances we have against one another? Can we buckle love as belt around us each morning? Can we put all the things we’ve sung in the Christmas carols into practice? Maybe we can’t do it all perfectly, but we can try to do it faithfully. And that is all that God wants. And we should know that God is with us…in the hard part.
Let me close with the words of the martyr-bishop of El Salvador, Oscar Romero. Speaking to the Salvadorian people on a Christmas Eve in a time of repression and suffering for the poor of his country, the archbishop reminded them of their true source of joy. A joy that would see them through the hard work of securing freedom…
On this night, as we Christians have down every year for 20 centuries, we recall
that God’s reign is now in this world and that Christ has inaugurated the fullness
of time. His birth attests that God is now marching with us in history; we do not
go alone, even though our aspiration for peace, for justice, for a reign of divine
law, for something holy, is far from earth’s realities. We can hope for it, not
because we humans are able to construct that realm of happiness which God’s
holy words proclaim, but because the builder of a reign of justice, of love, and of
peace is already in the midst of us.
Brothers and sisters, now comes the hard part. Let us go to work. Christmas is just beginning.