December 24 – Fourth Sunday of Advent/Christmas

Every year, my family tries to guess when the local radio station would begin playing Christmas music. This music forms the background of our festive activities from decorating the Christmas tree to baking cookies. For the last couple years, the song “Last Christmas” by Wham! has been particularly popular, being covered by so many different singers that it feels like every other song is some iteration of “Last Christmas.” Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s a catchy song, but to hear it that often tends to wear out its novelty.

The Psalm for Christmas Day proclaims, “Sing to the LORD a new song!” We are called to sing a new song because God is doing something completely new in history in the Christmas story.

For many of us, the story of Christmas is nothing new. We have our traditions such as our favorite Mass time to attend and our usual family gathering. And so when we hear the Christmas Gospel, it feels as old and comfortable as Linus proclaiming this same Gospel in the Peanuts Christmas special. But as we settle into what is old and comfortable and familiar about Christmas, we run the risk of missing what is new and unsettling and strange about Christmas.

Perhaps what is most strange about this Gospel is what is most familiar to us today: “You will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” God has become a baby in order to save the world, and He is currently lying in a feeding trough. When we think about the literal meaning of those words, they become almost ridiculous. But this strangeness isn’t just strangeness for its own sake. It points to the newness of what God is doing, perhaps the only truly new thing in history: God has become man in Jesus Christ in order to save us from our sins.

We cannot afford to let Christmas become something familiar and boring. Otherwise, it will have no effect on our lives. We instead need to receive this news like the shepherds, who are first “struck with great fear,” but after they go to see the baby in the manger, they return “glorifying and praising God.”

We are also called to encounter the baby Jesus this Christmas, and to allow His newness to make us new, so that we don’t go back to our old way of life. This new way of life might seem as strange and unsettling as the Christmas story, but as the shepherds and the saints throughout the ages show us, it is also a way of life filled with joy. When we have allowed this joy to fill our hearts, then we will want to sing a new song with the angels at the birth of Christ, even if the song we choose to sing is “Last Christmas.”

On behalf of Fr. Michael and all the staff at Our Lady of Mercy, we would like to wish you a blessed Christmas season!

Father Frank