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~ The Sorrowful Part of Christmas ~

Many of us search for the perfect church or religious organization. If I found one I would probably not attend or join out of respect for the sacred. If I did, I would contaminate it with my imperfections. A perfect church or organization with me in it would destroy its perfection.

I know of a silly theological debate in medieval times (though, no doubt, it was serious to them!) The issue was whether a fly that fell into holy water would contaminate the water’s holiness, or would the holy water make the fly holy?

Actually, the debate may appear silly on the surface, but we have similar ones today, which we take very seriously as did our ancient brothers and sisters. If something unholy enters into the sphere of the sacred, does the sacredness make the unholy holy, or does the unholy contaminate and defile the sacred?

Heaven is a perfect realm. If I were to enter it now, as I am, I would ruin it, for my imperfections outnumber the hairs on my head, and I’m not close to getting bald. Given another 50 years of life on earth, I still believe my imperfections would outnumber at least the cells in my brain. Given a million reincarnations, as some religions would have it, my imperfections would still be too many to not ruin the perfect heavenly realm. Surely there must be a purgatory existence before an assumption into the perfect heavenly realm. Or there must be an instantaneous cleansing and spiritual/soulful perfecting as I leave this body behind in physical death. We are called to be Christlike. That calling is directed to us on earth, now. I am so far from it. How can I actualize that Christlike call here on earth?

Getting back to the discussion about the sacred becoming polluted, the perfect Word of God was born into a polluted world that did not contaminate Him, as hard as it tried. So, did this incarnation of divinity purify the world? Obviously not. That is a mission in process. Did it purify me? Obviously not. That is also a mission in process. Such endeavors in process are not painless. They cannot be. The refinement of purgation, here on earth or beyond, is challenging and painful. Christ did teach in many ways that to be His follower, His lover, His brother and sister, means participating in His passion, in His suffering, in His self-denial.

Is this the Advent attitude of waiting for His birth? Most people think not. After all, we are preparing to celebrate the birth of a baby. Everyone loves babies! They are easy to love. They are not threatening to our souls or way of life. But this baby later told His disciples that the world hated Him and will also hate his followers, since the “students are not above their Master.” Indeed, that baby was crucified, a destiny for which He was born.

This baby, this Christmas celebration, holds a significant degree of sadness. I do enjoy and embrace all the aspects of Christmas, its moods, songs, pageantry, and, believe it or not, its commercialism. (The reason for the last one will be addressed in a future Weekly Reflection.) The “wise men” who visited Him knew about this aspect of sadness and destiny. That’s why they presented the holy family with a gift of myrrh, whose main purpose is to prepare a body for burial. Those astrologer-priests from the Middle East were indeed wise, a wisdom lost on many of us Christians.

The Christmas tree is festive. We place our gifts to one another under it. The cross upon which the baby was eventually crucified was cut from a tree. We place ourselves under it, as gifts and living sacrifices to the baby Jesus.

Babies are easy to love, so the world loves Christmas. The commercial calendar pivots around Christmas, while paying little attention to the Good Friday and Easter celebrations. The world loves a baby Jesus. The world has little tolerance for the adult Jesus. The world will melt under the glorified Jesus. Christmas is about His first coming. It is a wonderful and compelling story. Jesus’ second coming will not be as a baby. That story, however distorted and fictionalized by some Christians, has yet to be lived. And, living it, will not have to be told.

John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.

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