New Songs for Christmas
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town. And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. While they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear. The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
If it has been a while since your last time at Mass, welcome back! It is a great joy to celebrate together the birth of Jesus Christ, our King.
Christmas comes around every year, but how do we keep it fresh? One of the things I sometimes find difficult is to listen to the same Christmas songs every year. Some of these songs can get old. Some of us may have the same experience with something like coming to Mass or saying our prayers every day. Christmas is a moment to re-kindle the wonder we have at the coming of Jesus.
Today’s psalm reminds us to “sing to the Lord a new song.” “Today is born our Savior, Christ the Lord.” Saint Augustine says that:
We are urged to sing a new song to the Lord, as new men who have learned a new song. A song is a thing of joy; more profoundly, it is a thing of love. Anyone, therefore, who has learned to love the new life has learned to sing a new song, and the new song reminds us of our new life. The new man, the new song, the new covenant, all belong to the one kingdom of God, and so the new man will sing a new song and will belong to the new covenant.
We are called to sing a song with our lives. We should sing with truth and with joy.
We sing with joy when we recognize all the small and big blessings that come into our life every day. The Baby Jesus comes to us as a great blessing. It is not an imposition, but rather an offering. It was an offering that people were unable to recognize at the time of his appearance. The shepherds are models to us tonight. They come to the manger with joy. They receive the message from the angels with great joy in their hearts.
We sing with truth when we recognize the reality that is at the foundation of our existence. I have always been fascinated by magic. I love watching a good magic show and am fascinated by how a masterful magician can hold the attention of an entire crowd. I sometimes wish I had some of that magic while preaching at mass. The great secret of every magician, however, is knowing how to misdirect attention. This is what allows him to perform his “trick” and bedazzle the audience. So much of what the world speaks to us is an attempt to misdirect our attention. When we sing with truth, we keep our focus on what is most important: Christ, his Church, our salvation… We must learn to sing with truth.
Finally, we sing with joy when we are aware of the great gift we have received as Christians. Too often, we can see Mass as only an obligation. We are missing the point when this is our attitude. “Christmas is joy, religious joy, an inner joy of light and peace.” (Pope Francis)
This year, with Christmas falling on a Sunday, many evangelical churches have closed their doors, inviting people to spend time with their families. While obviously it is good to spend time with their families, it underlines for us one of the great gifts of being Catholic. We have a reason to come to Mass. Jesus is truly present in the sacrament of the Eucharist. While Protestants can stay at home, without any discernible difference; for us, it is a different story. Only when we gather in community and have a priest who pronounces the words of consecration do we have the Baby Jesus truly present in the sacrament of the Eucharist. May this Christmas fill our hearts with love for the newborn king and bring us to a place of being true witnesses of his love.
Let us learn to sing a new song, first with our lives and then with our lips. When we give witness of a life in love with God, others will follow our example and come to the manger, to adore the newborn King. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that we receive a tremendous gift in the Incarnation. “O marvelous exchange! Man's Creator has become man, born of the Virgin. We have been made sharers in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share our humanity.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 526) When we recite the Creed, we will kneel at the part that we normally bow our heads. May faith infuse in our soul a greater understanding and appreciation for the mystery we celebrate especially today.
Let us sing a new song to the Lord, with joy and truth.