- Rev. Paul Robichaud, CSP (Christmas 2013)
The Spirit of Christmas; a Sermon by John J. Burke CSP, 1899
Some two thousand years ago a carpenter and his young wife left the village of Nazareth to journey to Bethlehem. They journeyed the whole distance by foot and as Mary’s time was near they traveled slowly. The growing cold, the weariness of their long journey and Mary’s delicate condition urged them to find shelter as soon as possible. There was no room for them at the inn at Bethlehem. Around the hillside were rough place occupied by and ox and an ass. There amid the straw intended for the beasts, far from assistance, in the darkness of the cold winter’s night, Jesus Christ was born into this world.
Here with the eyes of faith we can see a truth more sublime, more elevating than anyone could ever think to wish for. Let us learn of Jesus Christ and the manner of his coming into the world. Let us inquire at Nazareth in the home of the carpenter, of the Virgin and the answer comes back, “Poverty.” Let us seek to journey on foot over the cold hills of Galilee and of Judea, from Nazareth to Bethlehem and again we hear, “Poverty. God was born on that cold night in poverty and neglect in order to show us how to be born into His Sonship with the Father. As the great Saint Paul says in Corinthians, “You know the grace of Jesus Christ, that being rich He became poor, so that through his poverty you might be rich.” Jesus Christ took what the world spurned and made it the means by which we come to Him.
This does not mean that we must renounce all our earthly possessions or give up everything that we have. Rather in fulfillment of the beatitude we must be poor in spirit so that the kingdom of heaven may be ours. “Poor in Spirit” is not some good intention that we promise God and then lead our usual everyday lives. No it is something difficult to attain, something that belongs to the zealous earnest Christian. It means first of all, accepting our particular lot in life. Many of us do not abound in this world’s goods, yet we are not in possession of the spirit of Christmas for we constantly yearn for the riches and wealth which others enjoy. Wealth may be possessed without sin, let those who are rich be blessed and not cursed with their riches.
For rich and poor alike, only one thing is necessary; the spirit of poverty. The spirit enable those who have wealth to not be a slave of their wealth but to be aware that it comes with dangers and needs to be used for the love of God. Poverty of spirit means a love for the poor. Nor is this spirit confined to money or material wealth. ‘Holy poverty is that virtue by which all things are transitory,’ says Saint Francis of Assisi. When you consider our present age with its love of wealth and its desire for show which rejects the hidden spirit of self-sacrifice, there is a great need for the spirit of Christmas, the Spirit of Poverty.
Poverty shrinks from recognition, from honor, from any sort of prominence. Poverty accepts the humble home, the daily toll of work. The soul of the poor man strips the world of its tinsel and show and shows it up as worthless. How does this happen. Faith in the truth of Christmas; faith in the divinity of Jesus Christ and faith in the call to be the sons and daughters of God.
Although the manger and all the things of the first Christmas night are remembered by the Church with a halo that knows no want of brightness, let us not forget what it actually cost the Holy Family. As we kneel before the crib on this Christmas day let us remember the cold and the neglect, let us learn from the spirit of poverty into which the God-man came. The song of the angels, Glory to God, Peace on Earth was meant for us. Let us be content and happy in winning the glory of the sons of God and our Christmas joy will be full. “Unto us this day is born a Saviour who is Christ the Lord.”