A Community Called "Christmas"
by Fr. Daniel Rohan
I noticed an article in the Travel Section of the Terre Haute Newspaper regarding the apprehension of the Israelis over the growing throngs of tourists which come every year at Christmas time. So they have issued special permits. You can't just go into Bethlehem anymore. You have to have a special permit. And if you want to get into the Basilica of the Nativity, for Christmas Services, it's by special invitation only. Unless you know someone you can't even go. I don't know why that strikes me as amusing, but it does. Think about the baby of a carpenter and peasant woman who couldn't even find a place to be born. And now to get there you have to have a permit and special invitation.
The musician Stevie Wonder wrote this song:
Someday at Christmas, men won't be boys,
playing with bombs like kids play with toys,
One warm December our hearts will see
A world where men are free.
Someday at Christmas, There'll be no war
When we've learned what Christmas is for,
When we have found what life's really worth
There'll be peace on Earth.
Someday all our dreams will come to be
Someday in a world where men are free
Maybe not in time for you and me
But someday at Christmas time.
Someday at Christmas we'll see a land
With no hungry children, no empty hand,
One happy morning people will share
A world where people care.
Someday at Christmas there'll be no tears
All men are equal and no man has fears.
Someday at Christmas men will all care
Hate will be gone and love will be there.
Someday a new world that we can start
With hope in every heart.
Someday at Christmas.
A long time ago Isaiah, with similar insight, wrote these words: "For behold I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind; but be glad and rejoice forever in that which I created. For behold I create Jerusalem rejoicing and her people a joy. I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people. No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, an old man who does not fill out his days. They shall build houses and inhabit them, they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit, they shall not build and another inhabit, they shall not plant and another eat, for like the days of a tree so like the days of my people be and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain or bear children for calamity for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the Lord and their children with them. Before they call I will answer them while they are yet speaking I will hear. The wolves and the lamb shall feed together. The lion shall eat straw like the ox. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain says the Lord."
Perhaps the most familiar aspect of the work of Isaiah is his anticipation of a saving invasion of God's love. Perhaps the least known aspect of the writing of Isaiah is that he was not simply anticipating a single Savior, but a saving community. He was anticipating that the time would come when there would be a saving remnant, a convenant community who would assume the responsibilities of a suffering servant, responsibilities which most of us delight in assigning to one Jesus of Nazareth 2,000 years ago.
The words of Isaiah and of Stevie Wonder have to do with a community called "Christmas." A community which refuses to abandon its responsibility to a wee baby in Bethlehem or a man on a cross but brings reality to the dream of the Prophet Isaiah that someday there will be a convenant community, a community of commitment which will dare to assume the full responsibility of the suffering servant. Suffering means self-offering. Someday there will be a community called "Christmas." Christmas means Christ Mass - the Christ for the masses.
We spoke about the Christ being inclusive rather than exclusive. God's spirit, love, light is inclusive. A community called "Christmas" is a community of total commitment to love; not a popular thing but every once in a while someone dares to put together the real meaning of Isaiah's words. Prophecy does not mean "predict the future". Prophecy means, "I speak for God." Isaiah was speaking for God when he anticipated that sometime the power of the claim of love upon the lives of men would cause such commitment, not a little dash and a little dab there, but such a total commitment that there would be a community called "Christmas"; a convenant community that would dare to practice self-offering, that would be able to recognize;
"This is the night...
When a worried world abandons argument
And breathes its plea for peace
In the quiet of a stable. "-Author Unknown
They would dare to be that loving, caring, year
roundgiving, gentle community called "Christmas".
I wonder what would happen, "If a beginning were
really made in the Word"
There are many bits of poetry, snits and snatches of insight, which begin, "Well, now it's over again". "So once again we've celebrated Christmas." "So, now it's past." But what if Christmas weren't past? What if this little rag tag band of committed people dared to become a community called "Christmas?" What if? What if we decided to make a total commitment here and now today, with all that we are, all that we have, of all the potential for what we will be? Dare this day in all of our parishes of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese to be that saving remnant? Not now and then, but all the time? What if we decided to put all our substance, all our being, all our hopes and dreams on the line today? What if?
We would make our promises and design our affirmations based on the gifts which have been given to us. Think about these gifts and make your promises to accept them. "The gift of life is marked with your name, and lovingly given to you - Accept it. The gift of peace is marked with your name and lovingly given to you - Accept it. The gift of joy is marked with your name and lovingly given to you - Accept it. The gift of wisdom is marked with your name and lovingly given to you - Accept it. The gift of courage is marked with your name and lovingly given to you - Accept it. Divine approval is a gift marked with your name and lovingly given to you - Accept it."
"The challenge to be a Community called 'Christmas' is the greatest challenge we will ever receive. There is no reason to cop out claiming we lack power, that we lack some spiritual gift, that we haven't yet received. No one is lacking any spiritual gift. To say we are lacking is to deny the call to become the community called 'Christmas'. We are capable of more than we know! We are greater than we realize. This is the truth about us. Accept it. Make a promise now to become, with all our being and all our substance, the community called 'Christmas'. Go forth each day claiming and proclaiming that we are indeed citizens, an active participating citizen, of a community called 'Christmas'."
CHRIST IS BORN!
INDEED HE IS AND ALWAYS SHALL BE!
Father Daniel is pastor of St. George Church in Terre Haute, Indiana.
Publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America