May our praise of our God not be muted this Christmas
What made the angels sing?
Each year at St. Charles Borromeo Parish, Monsignor Hession would rise before the Christmas Eve Mass and sing William Harold Neidlinger’s The Birthday of a King. Even in his old age, Monsignor’s tenor voice rang out, echoing the songs of the angels.
More than a quaint memory, his performance was deeply convicting. For him the song was the Christmas anthem. When Monsignor bellowed, “Alleluia! O how the angels sang,” I felt like singing too. Even as old age exercised its quiet tyranny and began to curb his musical gifts, his sung proclamation of the nativity rang no less true.
But it wasn’t just Monsignor’s heartfelt rendition that made Christmas. Draped in its late-Victorian trappings, Neidlinger’s hymn proclaims the mystery of the Nativity of Christ. It was an announcement of something deeper at work. For beyond homecomings and children’s choirs and decorations and gift giving, there was mystery. There was joy. This great feast was the birthday of our King.
This Christmas it is tempting to believe that the songs of the angels have waned. Will our Alleluias be muted? Will the rejoicing of heaven be any less great?
Pope Francis reminds us, “This year, restrictions and inconveniences await us; but let’s think of the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph’s Christmas: it wasn’t a rose garden! How many difficulties they had! How many concerns!”
What sustained them? What kept Mary and Joseph going despite the difficulties of the first Christmas?
Our loving Father in heaven gave to Mary and Joseph the three great gifts of faith, hope, and love. What’s more, he gives them to us, should we ask.
If we ask for faith, what will we see?
The Virgin Mary and St. Joseph, her most chaste spouse, had faith in the plans God had for them. St. Joseph did not put Mary away, nor did Mary shy from the angel’s annunciation. Faith allowed them to see the promises of their people, the covenant God had forged with Israel of old, coming to fruition in their own lives.
We may be tempted to view the story of Jesus as a tradition, a charming tale. But the gift of faith allows us to see that the coming of the savior is for us. Christ comes to redeem not the theoretical sins of the world, but our sins: my sins, your sins. Jesus, the Word-made-Flesh, became man to undo the wrongs we have done.
With the eyes of faith, we can see past the lies. We can dismiss the shaky and unreliable whims of our own day. Part of the tragedy of the pandemic for many is facing the insecurity and uncertainty of so many institutions and relationships. Faith, however, grants the security our hearts long for. By faith we can see that God will not let us down; he sent his Son, he will not abandon us.
St. Thomas Aquinas assures us, “Truth itself speaks truly or there’s nothing true.” Founded on the very word and promises of God who would never lie, our faith in God is certain.
Truth itself speaks truly or there’s nothing true.
If we ask for hope, what will we see?
So many of us this Christmas are just tired. We might resent the demands of government; perhaps Joseph resented the need to travel to Bethlehem for the Roman imposed census. We might find ourselves exhausted as no doubt the pregnant Virgin Mary was. But like the pillars of the Holy Family, we have to keep going.
Hope is the gift that allows us to carry on. So often in life we must face the temptation that maybe God’s promises aren’t so great. We tire of disappointment and setback. Is being Christian really worth it all?
Hope is renewed at Christmas. God promised he would send his people a savior. He kept his word. The good things of heaven, the good things of life to come still elude us, but there’s less reason to doubt in them this Christmas day. We have that much more confidence that God will satisfy all the longings of our hearts. “Hope,” says St. Paul, “does not disappoint” (Romans 5:5). In the birth of Jesus, in the little village of Bethlehem, we see the truest inspiration for the deepest, realest meaning of our lives.
If we ask for charity, what will we see?
As Mary and Joseph gazed upon the face of Jesus, they gazed upon the face of God. Buoyed by faith and hope, as they cherished the child born on Christmas, they embraced their loving God.
Their openness to God’s plan changed the horizon of Mary and Joseph’s lives. Service to this greatest love crushed any self-serving motives, shaping their hearts for the things of heaven. Charity, true love, renders this effect: that one might be united to that which is loved. So great is the love of God, that he becomes like us, that we might become one with him.
Charity allows us to bring about true union in our lives. Family life, friendships, our communities will be nourished by each Christian soul choosing selflessness over self-complacency. Charity is fed by giving rather than receiving, in abandonment rather than control, in forgiveness rather than comeuppance, in compassion rather than just deserts. If we seek charity, we too will find ourselves united to our tender God.
Alleluia! O how the angels sang!
This Christmas the most genuine, most heartfelt things are still worth singing of. God’s gifts of faith, hope, and love are a light for our lives. Faith, hope, and love were the balm that stilled the restless anguish of the first Christmas. These gifts are not lost to us. Given every year, on our celebration of the birthday of our King, we can always be enlightened, healed, and renewed.
May our praise of our God not be muted this Christmas. Let us summon our last strengths and let our voices ring out! For this day is the birthday of a King!