Christmas Potpourri

The Pope sends you his Christmas greetings. Here's his beautiful homily for midnight mass. I'll quote you my favorite part in a minute, but first here's a charming detail he includes. So much of our traditional mental images of scripture seem to come from nowhere. I have a priest friend who wants to write a book about stuff everyone knows is in the Bible that ain't. Eve's apple. Paul's horse. (Look 'em up.) But the Pope tells us towards the end here how it came to be accepted that there were an ox and an ass in the cave of Bethlehem: Isaiah's prophecy.
Reading Isaiah (1:3), the Fathers concluded that beside the manger of Bethlehem there stood an ox and an ass. At the same time they interpreted the text as symbolizing the Jews and the pagans – and thus all humanity – who each in their own way have need of a Saviour: the God who became a child.
Kind of neat, no? Although I ain't touchin' the question of who's the ox and who's the ass. But on to the meat:
nothing magnificent is given to the shepherds as a sign. All they will see is a child wrapped in swaddling clothes, one who, like all children, needs a mother’s care; a child born in a stable, who therefore lies not in a cradle but in a manger. God ’s sign is the baby in need of help and in poverty.


God’s sign is simplicity. God’s sign is the baby. God’s sign is that he makes himself small for us. This is how he reigns. He does not come with power and outward splendour. He comes as a baby – defenceless and in need of our help. He does not want to overwhelm us with his strength. He takes away our fear of his greatness. He asks for our love: so he makes himself a child. He wants nothing other from us than our love, through which we spontaneously learn to enter into his feelings, his thoughts and his will – we learn to live with him and to practise with him that humility of renunciation that belongs to the very essence of love.

And more, of course, but then I'd leave no room for other stuff. Go read! Next up: the Urbi et Orbi blessing. It answers the question: Do we still need a Savior? His answer isn't surprising, but he gets there in elegant fashion. He talks about progress --going to Mars, mapping the genome. But then he catalogues the dark side too:
Others see their own bodies and those of their dear ones, particularly their children, maimed by weaponry, by terrorism and by all sorts of violence, at a time when everyone invokes and acclaims progress, solidarity and peace for all. And what of those who, bereft of hope, are forced to leave their homes and countries in order to find humane living conditions elsewhere? How can we help those who are misled by facile prophets of happiness, those who struggle with relationships and are incapable of accepting responsibility for their present and future, those who are trapped in the tunnel of loneliness and who often end up enslaved to alcohol or drugs? What are we to think of those who choose death in the belief that they are celebrating life?
That last remark is a rather pointed take on Italian current events, which you can read about here. Then he prays for peace in the various flash point regions of the world. That paragraph bears further study. Other commenters have noted the prayer for peace in the Middle East, but notice what he says about Europe & Latin America too. And what he says about the conditions for peace. Then he prays for Christians to give witness to Christ by the way they live their lives, and ends with classic B16:
Only by rediscovering the gift she has received can the Church bear witness to Christ the Saviour before all people. She does this with passionate enthusiasm, with full respect for all cultural and religious traditions; she does so joyfully, knowing that the One she proclaims takes away nothing that is authentically human, but instead brings it to fulfilment. In truth, Christ comes to destroy only evil, only sin; everything else, all the rest, he elevates and perfects. Christ does not save us from our humanity, but through it; he does not save us from the world, but came into the world, so that through him the world might be saved (cf. Jn 3:17).

The Angelus entrusts Christian martyrs to Mary. Today's audience is further catechesis on Christmas. And here, if you scroll down to post #5376, are some personal details about how the Pope celebrates Christmas --the decorations, the cuisine, the guests.
Next we have a trio of hopeful stories about Muslims & Christians.
  • No Christmas violence in Indonesia --thanks in part to Muslim volunteers (no, I don't mean people volunteering not to bomb anyone, smart guy.)
  • Here's a story about a Muslim shopkeeper who hung a Merry Christmas banner outside his shop in Pakistan:
    The Christmas message “is one peace and social harmony, something that I wish the most for my country. For this reason I celebrated with my Christian friends and hanged banners in different parts of the city wishing Christians a “Very Happy Christmas”, said Summer Adeel, 29, a shopkeeper in Warispura, a well-known area in Faisalabad, and a Muslim.
  • And my personal "good news story of the year," from The Weekly Standard --about the resurgence of Christianity in...Holland? Yes, Holland. The liberal churches continue their decline, but orthodoxy's on the rise among the young. And here's the most interesting part of the tale for those of us who worry about Muslim immigrants: Holland's flooded with Christian immigrants:
    The reason the Christian population of Holland has stopped shrinking and is likely to avoid further decline is a phenomenon that until now has been largely overlooked by commentators on Dutch politics and society: Christian immigration. Analysts usually focus on the one million Muslim immigrants and their offspring who have made the Netherlands their home since the early 1950s. But in the past decade, Muslim immigration has been overtaken by a larger stream of immigrants, namely Christians from Africa, Asia, the Americas, and Europe. An SCP estimate puts the number of Christian immigrants in Holland at around 700,000-- and rising fast. Recent immigration reports suggest that for every new Muslim moving to Holland, there are at least two new Christian immigrants.
    Heh. It seems my plan to deport our Mexican immigrants to Europe where they could really do some good wasn't so nuts after all --someone had already thought of it! This is why Mark Steyn, as much as I love him, is too gloomy. He's the ghost of Christmas future, showing us the shadows not of what will be but of what may be if there are no changes. Anyway, Happy 3rd day of Christmas! Don't you feel better?

Finally, read NCRegister editor Tom Hoopes' lovely piece on the passing of his mother --I'm praying for a dose of her spunk for myself and the whole of Western Civilization right now when we really need it. Debilitated by Lou Gehrig's disease, she was recently asked how she could keep smiling when she was suffering so much.

She typed back: “Whining is a bad exit strategy.”

Well, that woman deserves to have her final wish fulfilled --you can help here if you'd like.

Now: back to the egg nog.