The road to Christmas

Gospel of Luke, Chapter 2, verses 1 to 5:

Now it happened that at this time Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be made of the whole inhabited world. This census — the first — took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria, and everyone went to be registered, each to his own town.

So Joseph set out from the town of Nazareth in Galilee for Judaea, to David’s town called Bethlehem, since he was of David’s House and line, in order to be registered together with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child…

joseph and mary to bethlehem

The road that Joseph and Mary took was hard and long, but tonight its end comes into view. In the hill country shepherds watch their sheep as the dust of the day settles. Bethlehem is full, but a rock-hewn stable is waiting… Waiting for the coming the destination of all roads.

He is coming.

Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say…

J.R.R. Tolkien

Top billing: the pope’s Christmas speech

Because of its importance, remaining at the top of the blog for now: what the pope really said in his Christmas address to the Curia.

Read the official English text here, and the Dutch translation I made here.

In the Dutch media today, the first reports came in that the pope didn’t actually say anything about homosexuals or gay marriage. This after gay rights association COC asked the government to take steps against the Holy See, a number of Catholics quite loudly announced they were now ‘de-baptised’ and some even suggested we should stop sending flowers to the Vatican for Easter…

Much damage has been done, not least in the hearts of people, faithful and others, who assumed they could take media reports seriously… Sadly this was not so, as preconceptions and agendas took precedence over factual reporting. As the issue remains current (strikingly enough, mostly in the Netherlands), this post will remain at the top of my blog, in order to easily access the text of Pope Benedict’s address.

Edit [3 January]:  Although most of the initial debate and outrage has died down, it is clear that much ignorance about what the pope actually said, coupled with unawareness of the meaning of what he did say, still exists. In part, this is due to people, unavoidably, forming opinions which they have no reason to change, but a significant cause is also the failure of the Church herself to be clear or to clarify, or, if necessary, to protest strongly. I don’t think the Holy See should have come out with any fo the kind since the outrage is quite exclusive to the Netherlands. But the authorities within the Netherlands should have done more than a single five-line statement with links to the English text and the Dutch translation available at rkdocumenten.nl. While availability of the texts is important (hence my own translation linked above), it is not enough to explain and clarify the lies and faulty assumptions in media reports.

I found that many people still act surprised when informed that the media reports were, in fact, completely incorrect. A sure sign that not only we, as Catholic faithful, must enter into debate and conversation about these topics, but that the institutional Church as a whole should do likewise. I think the latter dropped the ball here.

“You will go before the Lord to prepare a way for Him”

Gospel of Luke, chapter 1, verses 57 to 80:

The time came for Elizabeth to have her child, and she gave birth to a son; and when her neighbours and relations heard that the Lord had lavished on her his faithful love, they shared her joy.

Now it happened that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; they were going to call him Zechariah after his father, but his mother spoke up. “No,” she said, “he is to be called John.”

They said to her, “But no one in your family has that name,” and made signs to his father to find out what he wanted him called.

The father asked for a writing-tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And they were all astonished. At that instant his power of speech returned and he spoke and praised God. All their neighbours were filled with awe and the whole affair was talked about throughout the hill country of Judaea. All those who heard of it treasured it in their hearts. “What will this child turn out to be?” they wondered. And indeed the hand of the Lord was with him.

His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:

zechariahBlessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for he has visited his people, he has set them free,
and he has established for us a saving power in the House of his servant David,
just as he proclaimed, by the mouth of his holy prophets from ancient times,
that he would save us from our enemies and from the hands of all those who hate us,
and show faithful love to our ancestors, and so keep in mind his holy covenant.
This was the oath he swore to our father Abraham,
that he would grant us, free from fear, to be delivered from the hands of our enemies,
to serve him in holiness and uprightness in his presence, all our days.
And you, little child, you shall be called Prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare a way for him,
to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the faithful love of our God in which the rising Sun has come from on high to visit us,
to give light to those who live in darkness and the shadow dark as death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.

Meanwhile the child grew up and his spirit grew strong. And he lived in the desert until the day he appeared openly to Israel.

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord”

Gospel of Luke, Chapter 1, verses 39 to 56

Mary set out at that time and went as quickly as she could into the hill country to a town in Judah. She went into Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth.

Now it happened that as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She gave a loud cry and said, “Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord? Look, the moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leapt for joy. Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

And Mary said:

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour;
because he has looked upon the humiliation of his servant.
Yes, from now onwards all generations will call me blessed,
for the Almighty has done great things for me. Holy is his name,
and his faithful love extends age after age to those who fear him.
He has used the power of his arm, he has routed the arrogant of heart.
He has pulled down princes from their thrones and raised high the lowly.
He has filled the starving with good things, sent the rich away empty.
He has come to the help of Israel his servant, mindful of his faithful love
— according to the promise he made to our ancestors — of his mercy to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.

Mary stayed with her some three months and then went home.

“Let it happen to me as you have said”

Gospel of Luke, Chapter 1, verses 26 to 38

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the House of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. He went in and said to her, “Rejoice, you who enjoy God’s favour! The Lord is with you.”

She was deeply disturbed by these words and asked herself what this greeting could mean, but the angel said to her, “Mary, do not be afraid; you have won God’s favour. Look! You are to conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you must name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David; he will rule over the House of Jacob for ever and his reign will have no end.”

Mary said to the angel, “But how can this come about, since I have no knowledge of man?”

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow. And so the child will be holy and will be called Son of God. And I tell you this too: your cousin Elizabeth also, in her old age, has conceived a son, and she whom people called barren is now in her sixth month, for nothing is impossible to God.”

Mary said, “You see before you the Lord’s servant, let it happen to me as you have said.” And the angel left her.

Art credit: ‘The Annunciation’ by Henry Ossawa Tanner (1898)

Christmas meditations: “The Lord has done this for me”

In the home stretch towards Christmas, as faithful across the globe will gather for midnight Masses tonight, let’s return to the extraordinary narrative of tomorrow’s feast. Over the course of the day I will simply share passages from the Gospel of Luke. Read them think on them, and open your heart for the coming of the Son. Jesus Christ came not only those many centuries ago in Bethlehem, but every day in the hearts of those who welcome Him.

Gospel of Luke, Chapter 1, verses 5 to 25:

vision of zachariasIn the days of King Herod of Judaea there lived a priest called Zechariah who belonged to the Abijah section of the priesthood, and he had a wife, Elizabeth by name, who was a descendant of Aaron. Both were upright in the sight of God and impeccably carried out all the commandments and observances of the Lord. But they were childless: Elizabeth was barren and they were both advanced in years.

Now it happened that it was the turn of his section to serve, and he was exercising his priestly office before God when it fell to him by lot, as the priestly custom was, to enter the Lord’s sanctuary and burn incense there.

And at the hour of incense all the people were outside, praying. Then there appeared to him the angel of the Lord, standing on the right of the altar of incense. The sight disturbed Zechariah and he was overcome with fear. But the angel said to him,

“Zechariah, do not be afraid, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth is to bear you a son and you shall name him John. He will be your joy and delight and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord; he must drink no wine, no strong drink; even from his mother’s womb he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, and he will bring back many of the Israelites to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah, he will go before him to reconcile fathers to their children and the disobedient to the good sense of the upright, preparing for the Lord a people fit for him.”

Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I know this? I am an old man and my wife is getting on in years.”

The angel replied, “I am Gabriel, who stand in God’s presence, and I have been sent to speak to you and bring you this good news. Look! Since you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time, you will be silenced and have no power of speech until this has happened.”

Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah and were surprised that he stayed in the sanctuary so long. When he came out he could not speak to them, and they realised that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. But he could only make signs to them and remained dumb. When his time of service came to an end he returned home.

Some time later his wife Elizabeth conceived and for five months she kept to herself, saying, “The Lord has done this for me, now that it has pleased him to take away the humiliation I suffered in public.”

Art credit: The Vision of Zacharias, James Tissot, 1886-1894