Christmas 2011

Christmas 2011
December 25, 2011
Verses 11 & 12 of St. John 1:1-14
“The Greatest Gift Ever Given”

Last week I was speaking by phone with one of our people. At the end of our conversation, mindful that Christmas was still some days off, we nonetheless anticipated the feast by a little in wishing each other a Merry Christmas. He being Welsh added something he knew I might recognize – he bid me a HAPPY Christmas! [This from a man whose past year has been anything but happy: Indeed, a year of great sadness]. ‘Happy Christmas’ is a greeting one hears uttered throughout England (and yes, even in Wales).

‘HAPPY Christmas’ conveys a deeper, more truly joyous message of greeting, than does the familiar ‘Merry’ Christmas. In the Bible, ‘happy’ and ‘blessed’ are interchangeable words, as ‘blessed’ means ‘happy!’ ‘Happiness’ in the sense of ‘blessedness’ is we think, more representative of the spirit of what Christmas is truly all about! We Christians are ‘happy’ because the fact of what Jesus Christ did for us (pointing to the Crèche scene). And what he did is GOOD NEWS. And good news always makes for happiness!

The Bible speaks of the ‘Blessed’ well over three hundred times. In the Book of Psalms alone, some thirty nine. If using the words ‘blessed’ and ‘happy’ interchangeably, we would find that Psalms attests ‘blessed’: Is the nation that feareth the Lord. Blessed are the people that trust in the Lord. Are those in whose strength, and in whose heart are thy ways. ‘Blessed’: The people who walk in the light of his countenance. The undefiled. The upright. Those whose sin is forgiven. Those whom He chasteneth. Those who consider the poor. [These are but a sampling.].

Elizabeth upon greeting her cousin the Virgin Mary said: ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord’. Our Lady then prophesied she hence-forth would indeed be called ‘blessed’: for she had been blest. It was she who consented and conceived, and would bare the Holy Child of Christmas: loved, nursed, changed, and fed the infant, had authority over him, protected, educated him. Thirty years later, a woman in a crowd would say to Jesus: ‘Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the paps that gave you suck.’

Our Lord spoke of those who are ‘blessed’, in the body of teaching known as the Beatitudes. He describes not only WHO the ‘blessed’ are; but also HOW they will be blessed! ‘Blessed are poor in spirit, (and how?) for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed/happy are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Happy are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Happy are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Happy are those who are perse-cuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Happy are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be HAPPY, for your reward is great in heaven – for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.’

To his disciples Our Lord also said: ‘Blessed are the eyes which see what you see! Blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.’ Finally he says to all the Faithful, who persevere and finish their course right up through death: ‘Come, Ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’ Of himself he said: ‘Blessed/happy’ is he that cometh in the Name of the Lord’!

And in so saying all this, he was teaching us: BLESSED, HAPPY are those who do for others. For it was he who said it is more blessed to give than to receive. That is what his Birth teaches us. And that is why we feel a sense of joy and of happiness when we give to those we love gifts we have made, or chosen and purchased especially for them. We have given it special thought. We want our gift to express our love for them. We want to please them. Hence, we hope and trust that our gift will make them happy! It will make us happy too; to watch them open the gift, see their eyes light up, a smile form, and seem them hold up the gift in appreciation! We made them happy, didn’t we? We didn’t?

In England I knew two Anglican priests who had been friends for many years. If you happen to watch the public television series, Doc Martin; you know how this particular English village doctor can be and is, nearly all the time, straight forward, blunt, brutally honest, lacking tact, and explosive! Douglas was kind of like that!

Peter on the other hand was a gentle spirit, the sort who would give you the shirt of his back. For years each Christmas they would exchange gifts with each other. An old friend of mine happened to be present on one of those occasions and witnessed this exchange:

Peter opened his gift first. ‘Why Douglas, thank you so very much. This is wonderful!’ Douglas opened his gift next. ‘Peter,’ said he in a gruff and irritated tone, ‘What am I supposed to with this?’ – as he brought forth a small hand-held leather punch, together with the attachment used to insert little metal collars into the holes it would punch out. Douglas didn’t leave things there, but went on to say: ‘What in the world were you thinking? What am I ever going to do with a leather punch?’

Said Peter, ‘But Douglas, I would have been delighted if someone were to give me one!’ Therein expressed was his reasoning behind his gift to Douglass. He thought it would please Douglass and make him happy – after all it would have pleased him to receive the item. But poor Peter had miscalculated; and Douglas let him know about it!

Some folks aren’t happy, especially youngsters, if what they are given at Christmas isn’t what they asked Santa for, or you. They might say bluntly: This is not what I wanted! Why would you give me this? (Not knowing, realizing or caring that your motive was love!).

We’ve all been given gifts that in our estimation we’d probably never wear, never use, perhaps not value – except for the fact they were given us by a loved one; someone whose love and loyalty we value deeply. And no matter how impractical or undesirable the item, we would never be as blunt or rude as to express or register any displeasure. We would thank them for their thoughtfulness; in giving us something perhaps they wished they themselves had been given!

‘He came unto his own and his own received him not. But to all who received him, who believe in his name, he gave power to become children of God.’ We who profess to be Christians need bear something in mind, something of great importance! This Christmas, as throughout every ‘season’ in this life, the very GREATEST GIFT any of us shall ever receive is the gift we receive from Christ – his GIFT of HIMSELF to us!

‘He came unto his own, and his own received him NOT!’ Some refuse the gift because they do not realize or recognize the Love behind the Gift of Christ. The Hedonist will protest: This isn’t what I wished for out of life. I want what I want out of life. Not what someone else wants for me to have! The Ungrateful will say, in gruff and irritated tone – What am I to do with this ‘gift’: The promise of eternal life? This is of no immediate use or practical value to me. Keep it and him for yourself, and to yourself, and don’t bother me! What makes for happiness? Some in this life are content to let it be merriment; having no idea or concept of what produces true happiness. For many who are ‘of’ this world, happiness consists in: earthly delights and pleasures, gaiety, joviality, festivity, jesting and feasting. Well, isn’t that what Christmas is all about? But this life isn’t about always thinking of what would please me; but what would please others. Nor what will make me happy; but rather, what will bring happiness to others.

‘But as many as received him, to them he power to become the Sons of God.’ Some souls do know what makes for true happiness: and it isn’t putting one’s self first! Some will pause on Christmas to realize and give thanks. For the GREATEST GIFT we shall ever receive, even greater than that of life, is the Gift given us by and of Christ his self. These will go on to share that gift with others in and by the ways in which they gift to others: His love, his compassion, his forgiveness, his peace and his presence. And it will give them great delight and great happiness to do so!

Yes, Blessedness is Happiness! Happiness is blessedness! Christmas is most assuredly THE REASON for our being happy. And Jesus is THE REASON for the season; and THE REASON for our joy and true happiness! And so: Happy Christmas to all!’