What Child Is This?

That’s the name of a Christmas hymn. But like so many others this year, hymns I’ve heard all my life and I know by rote, it’s striking me as profound.

With the birth of this child, history was changed.

Despite the tension and violence that shook the Holy Land this year, Christians from around the world flocked to Manger Square in Bethlehem on Monday to celebrate the birth of Jesus in the ancient West Bank town where he was born.

Others traveled to Vatican City, where Pope Benedict XVI had lit a Christmas peace candle set on the windowsill of his private studio. Pilgrims, tourists and Romans gathered below in St. Peter’s Square for the inauguration Monday evening of a Nativity scene and cheered when the flame was lit…

In his homily, Benedict cited the Gospel account of Mary and Joseph finding no room at an inn and ending up in a stable which sheltered the baby Jesus. He urged people to reflect upon what they find time for in their busy, technology-driven lives.

“The great moral question of our attitude toward the homeless, toward refugees and migrants takes on a deeper dimension: Do we really have room for God when he seeks to enter under our roof? Do we have time and space for him?” the pope said.

“The faster we can move, the more efficient our time-saving appliances become, the less time we have. And God? The question of God never seems urgent,” Benedict lamented.

The pope worried that “we are so ‘full’ of ourselves that there is no room left for God.” He added, “that means there is no room for others either — for children, for the poor, for the stranger.”

I wish for this Christmas Day around the world a renewed commitment to others, especially children, the poor and the ‘Other’.

And a re-commitment every day thereafter.

Joy to the world. And peace on earth.

‘Love is stronger than death’

What can bring us peace when everything conspires to rob us of it?

The central message of the Resurrection.

Nearly 2,000 years later, the first Easter continues to provide lasting peace in the hearts of Christians.

“The resurrection of Jesus Christ gives us the greatest hope of all,” said Rev. Ben Lowell of Paulding United Methodist Church. “God knows what is going through our minds, he knows our sins and yet he still loves us. That’s pretty good news.”

Lowell called Easter a time of new beginnings and changed hearts.

“Easter tells us that life is stronger than death, that love is stronger than hate. It reminds us that today’s troubles are temporary. Even death is temporary.”

The celebrant at the Easter Vigil I attended quoted Jaroslav Pelikan at the end of his homily.

If the Resurrection is not true, nothing else matters. If the Resurrection is true, nothing else matters.

Remember the Resurrection

Sometimes priests and preachers remind us that we have to go through Good Friday to get to Easter Sunday. But who knew we needed to be reminded what happened on Easter Sunday?!

Seems it’s quickly turning into the big secular celebration Christmas largely has become for many people, including Christians preparing their feasts and decorating their homes with bunnies and colorful egg trees. Some scholars are saying we need to re-think Jesus.

Fewer than half of Americans mentioned Jesus’ death and resurrection when asked about the significance of Easter, according to a survey released last month by Christian researchers the Barna Group.

At the same time, the National Retail Federation reports we’ll spend more than $13 billion on the holiday for food, clothes, candy and greeting cards.

Although the holiday is meant to be the central celebration of the church, disassociating Easter from the biblical narrative of the resurrection or seeing it in symbolic terms makes Christianity “safer” for con-temporary churchgoers, some local Christian leaders say.

“Jesus is very challenging. To encounter him is existentially challenging. It can be scary and uncomfortable,” said Jeremy Wilkins, assistant professor of systematic theology at St. Mary’s Seminary in Houston. “There is a strong pressure in our culture to reinterpret (the resurrection) or explain it or not to deal with it as the mighty and miraculous thing that it was.”

Yes, encountering Christ is existentially challenging, which is why He came. The more uncomfortable it makes us, the more we’re probably converting from sinner to saint….or at least growing aware of what it means to be both.

The resurrection’s Easter competition comes not only from colorful bunnies and candies, but also the historical accounts of the story that appear in books, newspapers and cable TV programs each spring…

“The skeptical mind is always going to try to find a physical, a psychological, an other-than-spiritual reason for the truth of the resurrection,” said Gary Moore, spokesman for Second Baptist Church.

And modern culture is offering up plenty of alternatives, leading to what he calls a “contrarian” view of Christ.

Unitarian Universalists and more liberal congregations emphasize the inspirational side of the Easter story, as a story of new life and the power to rise above hate and injustice.

“Let’s don’t try to water this down. Let’s not try to make it just an idea,” said Moore in response. “Jesus’ resurrection doesn’t stand for something else, like a metaphor. Jesus’ resurrection only represents his body, not his philosophy.”

Or, more historically put…

Jesus’ resurrection was the first testimony of Christian faith; early Christians circulated stories about seeing him after his death, which were recorded in the New Testament, said April DeConick, a Rice University religion professor and historian.

“As Paul says in his letter to the Corinthians, the resurrection of Jesus served as a concrete example that God is good on his promises, and so the faithful followers of Jesus could be assured of their own resurrection after their deaths ,” she said.

And that’s the Easter truth worthy of a feast.

Noticing Jesus

Sounds odd, that post title. Just ‘noticing’ Jesus infers a passing glance. But the focus of Good Friday is the whole Passion and crucifixion of Christ on the Cross.

I noticed a really good article, and lively discussion going on as a result of it, over at First  Things.

The Eucharist—celebrated constantly throughout the world and this night with a particular intensity—turns our world upside down. It announces that at the center of the universe is the crucified Jew, Jesus.

When he was crucified, everybody thought the real action and the real power and glory were in Rome. Jesus was just another small-time, backwoods nuisance to the emperor, easily disposed of.

But in the frail flesh of Jesus, in his death, God changed everything. This is in human terms a most unlikely form of revolution. More radically—if that is imaginable—God continues that work under the forms of bread and wine.

Two things came to mind in reading and contemplating everything in this piece and the ensuing disussion. Things that came to me years ago in an adoration chapel. One, since it’s hard for even many Catholics to realize Christ is fully present in the Eucharist (much less those never taught his institution of that presence at the Last Supper…), imagine how powerful it would be if they could see a sort of hologram of him in front of every monstrance or tabernacle. Wow, talk about revolutionary….

And two, imagine if only one priest in one church in the world had the ability to consecrate the bread and wine into the body and blood of  Jesus Christ and thus make him truly present in that church…..how people would probably travel across the globe to be at this sacred place where Christ is really ‘appearing’ among us today.

But since all of this is happening in the nearest Catholic church, and has been since the Apostles carried on the sacraments, it has become mundane to many (most). What Fr. Klein and his respondents remind us is that Axis Mundi is the better term.