by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
We celebrate Christmas 2015 with our world in turmoil.
After the terrorists’ attack in San Bernardino and the even more deadly terrorists’ attack a few weeks before in Paris, Americans are more fearful than we have been since Sept. 11, 2001.
Actually, what is even more terrorizing to me is the chaos within our American culture. Our Supreme Court believes it can redefine something as fundamental as the nature of marriage. Recently, a mother, whose 20-something daughter is preparing for her approaching wedding, told me her daughter was being ridiculed by her friends for doing something as archaic as getting married.
Behaviors that were clearly understood as immoral by the vast majority of society 50 years ago (e.g., abortion, sexual intimacy outside of marriage, homosexual activity and cross-dressing) now are celebrated and considered not only acceptable, but brave. Expressing traditional Christian moral teaching is considered by some a hate crime.
You cannot watch televised sports without being prepared to explain to your children the possible dangerous side effects mentioned in the ubiquitous ads promoting Viagara and Cialis.
Studies examining religious practices report that the fastest growing segment of American society is “Nones” — those who claim no religious affiliation. Many of the Nones profess to be spiritual, but they do not want to be identified with any church.
Actually, this is not a new problem. Sadly, one of the attractions of being spiritual, but not religious, is that you can make God into your own image. When the spiritual person finds a particular orthodox Christian doctrine derived from the Bible and moral tradition of the church inconvenient or difficult, they just disregard it.
Once we reject the church’s teaching authority, then our personal feelings and desires at a given moment become the infallible guide for our moral decision-making. If you eliminate the pope as the ultimate arbiter of church teaching, then everyone becomes their own pope.
A major problem with this approach is that our god cannot become anything more than what we can conceive or desire. We fashion our god to tell us what we want to hear. Historically, this has been known as paganism. Paganism inevitably results in the moral chaos that is now so prevalent in American culture.
I invite you to do a quick study of the voluminous amount of Christmas entertainment available on the hundreds of television channels in most U.S. homes. The vast majority ignore Jesus, much less the mention of his birth, for fear this will offend non-Christians. Nothing like attending a birthday party and not acknowledging the guest of honor because you do not want to slight anyone else!
Political correctness aside, Christmas is all about a God who reveals himself to us, not one that we make up. Orthodox Christianity is about a God who fashioned the universe, our world and all of creation out of love. The first chapter of the first book of the Bible declares the created world to be good. The masterpiece of God’s creation was man and woman, whom God made in his own divine image.
What was present before God’s creation was nothingness or actually, as Genesis describes, a formless void — in other words, chaos. Yet, if the world is good and human beings are his masterpiece, why is there so much evil and suffering, chaos in our lives? Revelation answers this question in the third chapter of Genesis with its description of the Fall — the original sin of the parents of all humanity.
In making human beings in his divine image, God gave men and women free will. Unlike any other aspect of the created world, we were given the choice to love God or not, to follow his will or make the pursuit of our own desires supreme.
When you examine the nature of the original sin, it was a decision by our first parents to distrust the God who had created them out of love. It was a choice to follow their desire to become their own gods rather than observe the small limitation God had set for their own protection. The result of sin was a return to chaos.
Christmas is a celebration of God’s response to sin, namely mercy. God desired to rescue us from the chaos of our rebellion by taking on our flesh and immersing himself in our humanity, even to the point of developing in the womb of Mary and being born into this world like every other infant. God chose to become one with us so that we could become one with him.
Jesus sought to do the will of his Father no matter how much this irked the human authorities of his time. Jesus modeled for us faithfulness to his Father’s will as the path to abundant life in this world and eternal life with him and his Father after our fleeting life on planet Earth.
Jesus offers us not a tenuous and uncertain peace that depends on military superiority over our enemies. It is a peace that is accessible to someone running a marathon or in a wheelchair, dwelling in a palace or born in a stable, receiving worldly acclaim or detained in a prison cell, enjoying the peak of health or dwindling physical capacity due to advanced age. The peace that Jesus offers comes from our ability to experience the love of the only one capable of satisfying our deepest desires, no matter the exterior circumstances of our lives.
On Dec. 18, 1948, (67 years ago) my father was murdered. Pregnant with me and responsible for the upbringing of my less than 2-year-old brother, my 25-year-old mother’s life had changed forever. The chaos of sin was not theory but had reached into her world and shattered her natural dreams and expectations for our family.
I am so grateful that she believed in the love of God revealed in the birth of his only begotten Son. It was only faith in a loving God, who was with her even in this darkest hour, that gave her both peace and hope. It is only our belief in the God who revealed himself to us on Christmas that is capable of giving us a peace neither a terror attack nor the chaos caused by the current cultural moral confusion can steal from us.
I pray your Christmas peace and joy is derived from something more than wrapped gifts under a Christmas tree, sleigh bells ringing and chestnuts roasting on an open fire.
I pray that you know the One whose birth we commemorate not as some historical figure but as both friend and Lord of your heart. If your life is anchored in a friendship with the One born in Bethlehem, nothing can terrorize you — at least not for very long.
In the words of the Archangel Gabriel to Mary: Be not afraid!