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The First Sunday After Christmas – The Challenge to Become Contemplative Activists.

By Sr. Doreen, SSJD.

1 Sam. 2: 18-20, 26 / Psalm 148 / Col. 3: 12-17 / Luke 2: 41-52

When I was asked if I would share the homily today – the First Sunday after Christmas –  my first reaction was to smile at the church calendar, our ordo and the lectionary – they plunge us straight into mystery!  This is the day after Christmas, and as such, today, December 26th could be called and thought about by many names: the Day after Christmas, St Stephen’s Day, Boxing Day, my birthday or The First Sunday after Christmas… a multifaceted feast for thought, it prompted two thoughts that I would like to share with you.

Our ordo and the Church calendar and lectionary call this the First Sunday after Christmas, and it is.  But it also really is the day after Christmas day, and as such what came to my mind immediately was a sigh of relief. I thought after all the busyness of the Advent preparation and getting ready for Christmas, finally! the day after Christmas, a day when being alone and quiet to ponder what has happened is given to us as a gift. If we think of the Joseph, Mary and Jesus story, the Holy family’s story in the gospel story according to Luke, we move rapidly through the annunciation, the visitation, the long arduous journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, the stable and the birth, the angels and shepherds visiting.  It was a very traumatic, puzzling, difficult and busy time.  And finally, the day after, there is no account in the gospel according to Luke of anyone visiting – just silence. The next account in the gospel story is 8 days later when they go to the circumcision and naming of Jesus. 

So as in the gospel story, and in my imagination, the day after Christmas was a chance for them to ponder the mystery of all these things in their hearts, to wonder and to let roots grow deep.  Oh they probably had company – family and friends, they probably found a more suitable place to live while in Bethlehem … but for these few days, in my imagination I think they had some private time where indeed they could ponder what had happened, adjust to the birth of a new baby, and begin to become a family together.  If we think of our own gospel story – our own personal journey this year to this day after Christmas, our own community journey this year to this day after Christmas, does it mirror the Holy family’s circumstances – a traumatic, puzzling, difficult and busy time – so filled with unexpected and unanticipated events?  What is it we experience today?  Is it a chance to ponder all these things in our hearts, to wonder and to let roots grow deep?

Herbert O’Driscoll in one of his books commenting on Advent being a time of preparation and Christmas being a time of celebration said:  “we Christians are offered a long period of reflection to savour the joy of this event, to linger over its loveliness, to think of its meaning, to turn it around and around as we would a many-faceted jewel, looking now at this truth, now at that.”  So today I believe we are given a gift, a time to ponder the mystery of all these things in our hearts.

I am reminded of a story that was quoted in Ronald Rolheiser’s book “Holy Longing” – it is called Sharon’s Christmas Prayer taken from John Shea’s book “The Hour of the Unexpected:” 

“She was five, sure of the facts, and recited them with slow solemnity.  She said they were so poor they had only peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to eat, and they went a long way from home without getting lost.  The lady rode a donkey, the man walked, and the baby was inside the lady.  They had to stay in a stable with an ox and an ass (hee hee) but the Three Rich Men found them because a star lited the roof.  Shepherd’s came and you could pet the sheep but not feed them.  Then the baby was borned.   And do you know who it was?  Her quarter eyes inflated to silver dollars, – the baby was God.

And she jumped in the air, whirled around, dove into the sofa and buried her head under the cushion which is the only proper response to the Good News of the Incarnation.”

The Word was made flesh and it dwells amongst us, a mystery that undergirds everything else.  God puts on flesh and lives amongst us.  A chance today, the day after Christmas, to ponder this Good News of the Incarnation..

BUT into this pause – came a second thought: the lectionary readings deliberately move us on – we are not left looking at a Messiah in the manger – for today, the day after Christmas, is the first Sunday after Christmas, and we hear of a teenager Jesus, lost to his parents for a moment and found in the temple listening and asking questions.  Herbert O’Driscoll again says “Christian faith is never a matter of merely knowing, (pondering).  There is a demand concerning what we do with our new knowing … Something which has begun must go much further.  From being grasped by our pondering, and experienced in our feelings, it must become real in our acting.”

I found myself thinking about a Messiah in a manger as in the creche in the lobby – and the Messiah on the Cross here in the chapel:  the fullness of the wondrous mystery of God’s love for us and for the world.  Christmas can be likened to a down payment of God’s love and Good Friday and Easter the fulfilment of God’s love.  The two are held together – and the wondrous mystery of God’s love makes sense only when the two are held together.  This is especially true when we celebrate the deep love of God as a Messiah in a manger. It brings into focus what the hymn in Common Praise holds out to us (and I only share parts of that hymn as we will sing it later as the Offertory hymn):

  “I found him cradled in a lamp-lit barn; his mother Mary rocked him.
  The child was God they hung today, on a big high cross and they mocked him there…

 I heard him laughing in the temple court, the day his parents lost him. 
The boy was God they hung today and I’ll never know what it cost him there…

 I saw him weeping over sin and death, the sick and dying round him.
 The man was God they hung today on a big high cross when I found him there.”   

We cannot separate the mystery of the Incarnation and the mystery of the Resurrection – God’s incredible love for all of the world – a God who is totally given as the Life of the World, a God who in being so partners with us so that we can become the Life of the world. We are the body of Christ. Incredible mystery.

The lectionary purposely indicates for us that there is a call of discipleship – a call to move into the mystery of God with us, that this mystery is still going on and it is just as real and as radical today. The discipleship God asked of us, as his body in the world, can best to understood within that single phrase: God was made flesh and dwells amongst us.  As one translation of the psalm 148 that is part of the lectionary for today puts it:  “Your word is the primal note of the song that is our life and our becoming. You sing and we exist.  Your note lasts from age to age … let us stand together in a chorus of song.”

Indeed as St. Teresa said:

“God has no body now but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which God’s compassion must look out on the world.
Yours are the feet with which God is to go about doing good.
Yours are the hands with which God is to bless us now.”

As Rolheiser writes:  “God takes on flesh so that every home becomes holy, every child becomes the Christ-child, and all food and drink  become a sacrament.  God’s many faces are now everywhere, in flesh, so that human eyes can see God.  God in God’s many-faced face, has become as accessible, and visible, as the nearest water-tap, the nearest person sitting next to you…that is the why of the Incarnation.”

So today, I leave you with two thoughts and a prayer:

We are called to ponder – to live as contemplatives within the mystery of the Word-that-was-made-flesh and dwells amongst us.

We are called to act – to live in active partnership with God to bring the mystery of the Word-made-flesh as gift for the life of the world.

Lord, teach us to live as contemplative activists, trusting that your Spirit and your word provide all we need to dance with the angels on Jacob’s Ladder between heaven and earth.  Amen