Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
As much as I truly enjoy the season of Christmas and the celebration of our Lord’s Incarnation, it always strikes me as out of season and place when I see ads heralding “Christmas in July”. Perhaps I am just being selfish in relishing warm days that have no threat of snow or ice. However, the advertisement does make me ponder one aspect of the Christmas Season that is mentioned in the Gospel of Saint Matthew, Chapter 2, verses 13-15, commonly known as the “Flight into Egypt”.
So much had just taken place in the lives of the Holy Family. They have traveled to Bethlehem to fulfill the demands of the census and, in doing so, had to settle for less than ideal lodging. They are visited soon after the birth of the Savior by three astronomers from the East who bring gifts that are emblematic of the purpose of His coming to be like us in all things but sin: the gold of his purifying and merciful love; the incense of prayers rising before God in praise and supplication; and the ointment of death, for Christ’s victory over its power as the Lamb of God.
As these three visitors receive a message in a dream not to return to Herod but instead follow another route, so too does Saint
Joseph receive a message from an angel of the Lord to leave Bethlehem for the relative safety of a foreign land so as to escape religious persecution with its ultimate consequence of death for the newborn child.
When one reflects upon these events apart from the festival nature of the holiday season, they stand out plainly and without adornment as a timeless message to each generation and every pilgrim of Faith that our dwelling place on earth is but a tent, and that we journey with the expectation of dwelling in the unity of the Holy Spirit at the Table of God’s Children in Heaven.
In Christ there is no east or west, no south or north but one great fellowship, one lasting communion of humanity throughout the world. If we immerse ourselves prayerfully in this Truth of Faith, then it helps us to see our place in time in the perspective of our journey into eternity, and it challenges us to see one another through eyes of faith as sisters and brothers in Christ, first and foremost and always.
It is impossible to imagine what went through the hearts and minds of the astronomers or of the Holy Family when these messages were given to them, but we do know that they were obedient unto God and did as they were asked. This faith-filled and trusting response is very humbling and challenging to my own earthly cares, concerns and priorities. It challenges us all to consider the struggles and hopes of others on their journey of Life and Faith. Whether the journey is within the state of one’s own mind as one of self-perception, the hardships of one’s household and family or in traveling many miles in a sojourn to a foreign land; in the suffering that is endured, all hope and pray for the understanding, resolution and freedom from persecution that is found in the promise of grace and blessing of God’s help and protection.
That being said, perhaps Christmas in July is entirely appropriate if it engenders a realization of and appreciation for the true beauty of Christ within and among each of us as children of God whose eyes of Faith behold themselves and others as pilgrims on the path of righteousness and mercy. With trusting obedience to the will of the Father, we may more deeply desire that the promise of salvation in Christ is fulfilled for all and that no soul is lost on our journey into eternity or even the passage of this day.
Msgr. Kevin O’Neill