The Christmas Spirit

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Feast of the Holy Innocents

Matthew 2:13-18


If you’ve had to do any kind of shopping or have listened to any radio station over the past couple of days, it’s pretty evident that many folks have “moved on” from Christmas.  Stores have deeply discounted their holiday merchandise.  Christmas candy (now on sale!) has been replaced by the various heart-shaped treats for Valentine’s Day.  Yesterday I even saw a rack of swimming trunks!

In some ways, it can also seem as if the Church almost as quickly “moves on” from Christmas.  We’re still in the Octave of Christmas, on December 26 we’re invited to remember the church’s first martyr, Stephen; on the 27th we celebrate St. John the Evangelist (according to tradition, the only one of the Twelve who died a natural death); and on December 29 remember St. Thomas Becket, a bishop martyred in his own cathedral by the knights of King Henry II.   Today we remember the massacre of young boys in Bethlehem by a ruler so insecure and unnerved by the Magi’s story of a newborn King of the Jews that he sought to destroy him. 

At first glance, it seems that the liturgical calendar must have been designed to kill whatever is left of the “Christmas spirit.”  But there’s something else going on here, something else Mother Church wants us to remember.

We cannot separate the joys of Christmas from the suffering of the innocents, whether they were those slaughtered in Bethlehem centuries ago or those who are abused, neglected and trafficked throughout the world today. 

We cannot separate the chorus of angels singing of God’s glory before the shepherds from Rachel’s wailing lament that echoes today in the voices of mothers who have lost their children to violence on the streets of Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit and elsewhere. 

We cannot separate the flight of Joseph, Mary and their young child from Bethlehem to Egypt from the flights of those countless thousands fleeing from Aleppo, Mosul, South Sudan and elsewhere.

The spirit of Christmas is filled with love, joy, power and peace but not without some anxiety.  The world of Christmas, then and now, is too often filled with suffering, loss and bloodshed.  Our challenge, then and now, not just in this season but every day, is to bring the spirit of Christmas into the world of Christmas—to see the Word made flesh again...and again…and again.—JC