A couple of weeks ago, some media outlets including Rolling Stone, and Yahoo released a list of the 10 least favorite Christmas songs as determined by a poll of over a thousand adults. Curiosity and attention deficit disorder made it impossible not to click to see the results: The top 5 (or rather the bottom 5) included a three-way tie at #5 of Baby it’s Cold Outside; All I want for Christmas is You and Last Christmas; #4 Wonderful Christmas Time; #3 I saw Mommy kissing Santa; #2 Grandma got run over by a reindeer and the #1Santa Baby. Can’t say I disagreed with any of those being on the list (I might have shuffled the order a bit and might argue whether All I want for Christmas is a bad song or just overplayed, but I’m not going to put up a huge defense)
Thanks so much for stopping by to read my homily for the NATIVITY OF THE LORD – CHRISTMAS DAY – December 25, 2022, for sharing it on your social media posts and your feedback and comments… I’m also grateful for all those who’ve asked for the audio version and share them as well at SOUNDCLOUD click HERE or from ITUNES as a podcast HERE. May the Lord be glorified in your reading and sharing Sincerely in Christ – Father Jim
Part of the reason I went to look at the article was to see if some of my least favorite songs had made that list. A couple that I won’t get into did as you kept expanding to “top 10 and top 20.” One in particular though that I was sure would be, but wasn’t, was the song “Do You Hear What I Hear?” In truth, my problematic history with the song is really only tied to flashbacks of the Frank K Hehnly Grammar School Winter Concert. I was in 2nd or 3rd grade and this was a song that the entire chorus of grades 1-5 sang where it was split up as kind of this call and response thing where one half would sing “Do you hear what I hear?” and then the other half would respond “Do you hear what I hear?” I just remember our poor music teacher Mrs. Havens looking like we had found her last nerve as she attempted to conduct us with her back to our parents but somewhat seething as a couple of students decided to practically scream those verses louder and louder. Hours earlier, without an audience in front of us and with the tight supervision of other teachers this was something specifically she had warned us not to do – but now this song was like a runaway train. I remember afterwards my Father saying something along the lines that it might be impossible for the deaf person not to have heard it since it had gotten so loud and out of control. Ever since then, over the years has been to children’s Christmas concerts from time to time I just needed to hear those first notes for those hairs on the back of my neck to go up.
Despite my PTSD from Grammar school music class, as this Advent season moved along I’ve had to reconsider and revisit this song. First, thankfully Andrea Bocelli and his family recorded that song on their new Christmas album. That guy could probably make “Grandma got run over by a reindeer” sound beautiful. So listening to him and his family singing this track I actually found myself singing along. And then every time I picked up this Gospel and read and prayed with it, those words “do you hear what I hear?” “Do you see what I see?” kept coming to mind. Because this Gospel really is focusing on Seeing and hearing…
If you read the entirety of the scriptures (and if you haven’t, a quick plug for “The Bible in a Year podcast with Fr. Mike Schmitz” – in about 20-30 minutes a day he reads the bible and explains the context and the entirety of the Old and New Testament and how that can give you a biblical vision to life, to history, to everything. New Year’s is coming, it’s an easy, resolution it’s a free thing that I highly recommend). But if you read the entirety of the scriptures, this moment of Christmas, where God comes to earth as a fully divine and fully human being is the historic moment of re-creation and re-ordering of all that was wrong, all that was broken by humanity and sin… The centuries of the people of God trying but inevitably failing to remain faithful to their covenant with God… all leading up to this pivotal moment of God’s dramatic entrance into the creation now as one of us to save us from sin and death. You’d kind of expected something massively dramatic, with spectacular sounds and sights, wonders impossible to ignore. This is the God who parted the Red Sea and just as effortlessly closed those seas on the forces of evil that were determined to fight God. We’d imagine this entry into human history would be something along those lines.
St. Luke kind of emphasizes the contrast of what people were SEEING AND HEARING and responding to as God enters. We hear of these political figures whose names were universally known and we see by their very decrees had stopped the course of everyday life and routines forcing the entire population to drop everything and be counted in a census. We hear of an innkeeper who sees a very pregnant Mary but decides he cannot or will not help. God enters the chaos of a world that seems indifferent, preoccupied, and distracted. Jesus’ birth will not be some top secret, hidden thing. Yes, there are sights and sounds from heaven announcing the amazing news from the angel of the Lord, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy.”
How is it that only the Shepherds hear and see this news? One reason? Because the message of joy can only be received by those who are not afraid. The rich and the powerful were all about maintaining those things for themselves and would be constantly on alert, on guard for anything thing might jeopardize as we will continue to hear and see throughout the Christmas story. And sadly for countless others the extremes of the rat race of desperately trying to advance in that world or the drudgery of being weighed down by failing to be able to do that filled their lives in fear with noise, and distractions that made it difficult or impossible to see or hear anything else.
But for the shepherds – who society had rejected as the lowest of classes – they were out living with these simple creatures – sheep and selflessly caring and protecting them. They’re out in the fields because they have nothing else and know how vulnerable the sheep are to threats from predators. The Shepherds had learned not to fear wolves, the literal or figurative ones. All of this helps attune their eyes and ears to be witnesses God’s entrance into humanity. They might not have even realized how all this was preparation for them to receive the true gift of Christmas which is joy.
My friends, the same thing remains true for us today. The miracle of Christmas, where God is alive, born in a stable in Bethlehem that miracle is replicated here and now in this place where Jesus is just as alive and present in the Eucharistic Body and Blood that will be consecrated on this altar in a little while. Yet some only see a piece of bread. Some will only hear words being said that they have heard countless times before.
How can you hear what I hear – see what I see? How can our hearts be open to receiving the true gift of Christmas – the gift of Joy? First is to remember that joy isn’t meant to be a synonym for happy. I think we often fall into that mistaken understanding because that is the goal of joy and so much of what is idyllic about Christmas evokes those images, hopes, and promises. And our celebrations have become so elaborate that we link them to that desire, that pursuit of Joy. When we think of the happiest elements of Christmas – children opening gifts from Santa, and singing (or screaming) Christmas songs, it’s easy to lump them together. But when we’re struggling with an illness threatening someone close to us, mourning the loss of someone not with us – it’s understandable for those realities to undermine our happiness and happy memories.
But Joy, by definition, is the gladness, that comes when we receive the thing that leads to our genuine, everlasting happiness. Joy is the response of the human heart when it hears and sees the authentic promise of life and eternal life. And Jesus Christ’s Presence is precisely that. (Fr. Peter Cameron, O.P. https://aleteia.org/2022/12/10/this-is-satans-only-real-enemy-take-it-seriously/
This is why we can be joyful when we’re struggling, mourning, and experiencing sadness. Those are realities of life that Jesus enters into and experiences Himself. The one thing that we can’t be if we want to hold onto the true Joy of Christmas is fear. That’s the work of the devil. It’s why the Lord is constantly reminding everyone “do not be afraid.” In this Gospel passage, He says it to the Shepherds; earlier He says it to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and in a dream, He says it to St. Joseph. He says it to remind them He is God, that He loves them, that they can trust Him, and that if they hear His voice, and see His presence the joy that their hearts, the joy of every human heart can be found in Him. It’s been said that there are over 365 times in scripture that tell us that same message “Do not be afraid” as if God wants to remind us every single day not to lose our joy which is found in Him.
To you and me today, Christmas brings us back to this historic moment to experience God’s goodness anew. May we join the Shepherds to hear what they heard, See what they saw
“Do not be afraid;
for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy
that will be for all the people.
For today in the city of David
a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.
And this will be a sign for you:
you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes
and lying in a manger.”