Evermore and evermore!

December 26, 2017

On Christmas Morning, Archbishop Augustine Di Noia, O.P. delivered the following homily at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, DC.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ.   Merry Christmas and welcome to all who join the Dominican friars on this Christmas morning. Let no tongue on earth be silent, / every voice in concert sing, / Evermore and evermore.  Let us together keep Christmas as the festival of the Nativity of the only begotten Son of God according to the flesh. Let us worship God, the adventurer of love, who so loved our poor human nature that he placed it imperishably for all eternity in the very midst of the blazing furnace of his Godhead. God was not satisfied to be in himself, as it were, but in addition willed to be a human being. Now that God himself belongs to it as a brother, humankind is not just an anonymous multitude but a sacred family (cf. Karl Rahner, Everyday Faith).

To those who accept him Christ gave the power to become children of God.   The Son of God became a son of man so that the sons and daughters of man could become the children of God. O amazing goodness of God! Of the Father’s love begotten, Christ was born the only Son, but would not remain so. He did not hesitate to admit joint heirs to his inheritance, brothers and sisters by adoption who would share in his inheritance without lessening its worth. The Word was made flesh in order that so apparently incredible a grace—that men should be born of God—would not alarm or surprise us: why marvel that men are born of God when God himself was born of man? (cf. St. Augustine, Tractatus on John, ii. 13 & 15).

How partial must any mere humanism seem when, in and through the Son of the Father and of the Virgin, man is to become God and thus infinitely more than man. The Incarnation has radically altered the shape and direction of human history. In Jesus of Nazareth, delivered to us as Christ and Lord, the human race has experienced in its earthly history a definitive and unsurpassable coming of God in the flesh. While in times past God spoke in partial ways to our ancestors through the prophets, in these last days he has spoken to us through the Son. While retaining his ineffable mystery, in Jesus of Nazareth God has expressed himself as Word wholly and irrevocably. This is He Whom seers in old time / Chanted of with one accord; / Whom the voices of the prophets / Promised in faithful word; / Now He shines the long expected / Let creation praise its Lord, / Evermore and evermore. The sorrow and tragedy of human history—of which we continue, day in and day out, to be the dismayed witnesses—must after all have a blessed outcome if God takes part in it himself.

This monumental transformation of human existence, even if fully visible only to the eyes of faith, could not have remained completely hidden. We saw his glory, the glory as of the only begotten Son of the Father. The Nativity of the only begotten Son according to the flesh—in Bethlehem, at midnight, in piercing cold—was humble and mysterious, to be sure. This birth came in conditions of ignorance, superstition, and cruelty, greed and hatred, lust and hypocrisy—indeed, conditions not unlike our own. But his birth was not unknown or unacknowledged. All creatures recognized their Lord: the angels summoned the shepherds and the star alerted the Magi. The very universe itself shouted louder than any trumpet that the king of heaven had come. Devils fled, diseases were healed, graves gave up their dead, and souls were brought out of wickedness to the outmost height of virtue (St. John Chrysostom, Homily, XII, 1). For the Lord has bared his holy arm in the sight of all the nations and all the ends of the earth behold the salvation of our God.   Thus, we must sing:  Let no tongue on earth be silent, / every voice in concert sing, / Evermore and evermore.

No one is excluded from the joy of Christmas. All share the same reason for rejoicing. Our Lord, victorious over sin and death, finding no man free from sin, came to free us all. Let the saint rejoice, and the sinner be glad. Let the unbeliever take courage as he is summoned to life (cf. St. Leo the Great, Sermon 1 in Nat. Domini). During Advent, we prayed that Christ would show himself to those who have never known him, to let them see his saving work, and to let them see his glory. Perhaps in the popular celebration of Christmas we can discern at least a partial answer to our prayers for those who do not yet believe in Christ.

Christmas is the single biggest event on the planet, and nothing affects so many people around the world every year as Christmas does. Most Americans—Christians, adherents of other faiths, and non-believers—celebrate Christmas. The Christmas tree, the wreath, gift giving, the universally observed legal holiday, the merriment, even the public crèche—these can seem to be manifestations of a merely secular spirit of Christmas. But Jesus Christ, not the winter solstice, is unquestionably the reason for the season. This allegedly secular festival would not exist apart from the fact that the birth of Christ is celebrated on this day and in this season. Put Christ back into Christmas, some like to say. But who has the power to take him out of Christmas?  God has come to us and no one can take him away from us, for Christ the Lord is now our brother.  Many aspects of the popular celebration of Christmas seem to represent little more than cultural ritual, to be sure, but there are unmistakably religious undertones. Otherwise, why would activist atheists campaign so ferociously against every hint of Christmas observance in public spaces?

Whether it be “White Christmas” or “Blue Christmas,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” or “All I Want for Christmas”—popular Christmas music is full of unrequited love, disappointment and, above all, longing. The desire to find the perfect gift for a loved one, to meet the perfect companion for life, to have the perfect family, to enjoy a perfectly peaceful life with one’s family, friends and neighbors—all this Christmastide nostalgia and yearning cannot fail to appear to the eyes of faith as an expression of the longing for him that God has planted in every human heart. Even an unbeliever might ask himself in an unguarded moment if in his heart of hearts there does not lay the unlikely courage to believe in Christmas.

Like La Befana—the Italian mythical figure who brings presents to children at Epiphany as she searches for the Christ child whom she refused to visit when invited to do so by the shepherds and the Magi but now seems never to be able to find—like her, many unbelievers, immersed in the observances of the Christmas festival, search for a fulfilment that annually slips from their grasp because they cannot find their way to the Christ child. Christmas is a time when many who consider themselves non-believers feel a stirring of the spirit.  Whether it starts at the mall or on the Hallmark channel, it not infrequently leads them to church at Christmas time. To a Catholic sensibility, the apparently shallow aspects of the popular Christmas celebration might possess a certain truth and depth after all. The seeming pretense of the secular festival is then not the ultimate truth about it. Behind it stands the holy and silent truth that God has in fact come and celebrates Christmas with us (cf. Rahner, ibid.).

Brothers and sisters in Christ, God made Christmas without consulting us. There is nothing for us to do for the time allotted to its annual celebration but to fall under its spell, to yield our hearts to its enchantments, to sing the Christmas songs and carols, to love our neighbor and be merry, to venerate with integrity of faith the mystery of so wondrous an Incarnation,  and to worship and give fervent thanks to God Father, Son and Holy Spirit for the amazing love that has been shown to the human race—that for men to be born of God, God did not hesitate to be born of man.   O ye heights of heaven adore Him; / Angel hosts, His praises sing; / Powers, dominions, bow before Him, / and extol our God and King! / Let no tongue on earth be silent, / Every voice in concert sing, / Evermore and evermore! Amen.

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