Emmitsburg Council of Churches

The Greatest Story Ever Told

Father John J. Lombardi

That was the title of one of those big-Bible Cecil B. DeMille movies, wasn't it? Well, that descriptor should apply to Jesus Christ's Infancy Narratives and Christmas story, the subject of Advent.

It's Advent and we should "Be watchful, Be alert," as the Lord Jesus calls us to be in the Gospel ( Mk. 13:33 ). Alert for what, you ask? That people are trying to change The Greatest Story Ever Told. Today, with mass un-mystical marketing you can either choose a "Subversion of the Christmas Story" or a "Celebration the Story".But you need be, as Jesus says, alert and vigilant. More on that below, but first let's consider: Just what we is the purpose of Advent?

Our Sacred Tradition teaches us that the "character of Advent is about Jesus' Two Comings: His Birth 2005 years ago in Bethlehem and His Second Coming in Glory when He will Judge all the living and the dead. Are you preparing for this,these? Also, we should prepare for the Lord's "Middle Coming," as St Bernard called it, when he arrives in the present-to-present moment of each believer's heart.

Today, though, the Story of Christmas and the events leading up to it, the "Infancy Narratives," (the first three chapters of the Gospels of St's Mt. and Lk.) are being changed and "spinned". How, you ask? We have, now, "Winter Holidays" instead of "Christmas Holiday," and, you know-"Seasons' Greetings" versus "Merry Christmas". We're being duped (at least some are, not you of course!). Every year in Advent children and families set up manger scenes-complete with shepherds, wandering magi, Saints Joseph and Mary, a Baby Jesus, The Star, even some cows huffing in the night and so forth. Now, in the public marketplace, these manger scenes are not allowed at all or the presenters are forced to complete these with "Santa's", reindeer or "snow men" to make them appeasable to the "general public". This is a Subversion of the Story. Be watchful, be alert. George Orwell, famous author of "1984"-a critique of over-government and communism, and "Big Brother,," said those who control the language wield the power and control life.

Faith and History: Another form of the Subversion I recall is when I came thru college and the seminary-- I was taught to question much of the "manger scenes" and all that. I was encouraged to believe these sacred characters were unnecessary, "extra-poetic-additives" to the real history of the Bible. This is called "de-mytholgization". The au courant interpretation then-as now--was that these characters were just symbols, not really historical--placed there in the Gospels and Infancy Narratives to make a spiritual, artistic point. The point: history didn't matter, really, the Gospel writer's symbolism did-and the interpreter's avant garde interpretation. Thus: Sacred Revelation out, and human propagation in. This is unfortunate and probably still reigns today in many a place of catechesis. This is a Subversion of the Story. So, rather, this Advent, Celebrate the Greatest Story Ever Told" as the Baltimore bumper sticker declares: Believe. What is unique about Christianity is that Faith is history and history roots our Faith. When yo begin to pull them apart you…Well, now, just Believe!

(Incidentally, I've just read the book "Where God Was Born," by Brue Feilor, about the actual place of Jesus and the Biblical events: they really happened-there! You may want to read his account and all the colorful people who now live Where God was Born)

Romance: The Infancy Narratives and Christmas Story are the truest romance in the world. We should emulate and treasure them; what more do we need? Yet, contemporary culture celebrates a subversion of the Romance Story, as in Gabriel Garcia Marque, who is a famous (southern) Latino author who has released a new book with a title too ribald to repeat here, along with an equally steamy story-line about an old man seeking young women. Now St. Joseph is traditionally depicted as an older man emulating, in a chaste and holy way, a young lady-Virgin-Mary. Why invent stories like Mazrquez's when you have romance, drama, chivalry and a sacred-searing story line for all ages and interests like the Infancy Narratives? Men unfortunately have been trained in today's world to abuse women, and women have sometimes been tempted to misuse their bodies to attract men. It is getting ridiculous. Tom Wolfe catalogued some of this misogyny in his book on "college education," "I Am Charlotte Simmons," which basically portrayed a mythical college as a greenhouse for sexual, drug and anti-religious education. His book was a critique, in his way, of the Subversion of the Story of True Romance. Anyway, the Bible proposes that there is true romance based upon sacrifice, God and serving others. Today romance is often based upon lust and narrow fields of fetishistic romance, while locking out Eternal Destiny, God's Providence, the family and others. The Christmas Story is the apex of human and Divine Romance. Shouldn't we celebrate that?!.

Materialism teaches the Subversive Story that we humans are endless desirous-cogs searching for completion in possessions. I read once that Christmas is really about excess. Actually, it is true: God's excessive love for us sinners. And then there is the excess of materialistic pursuit and gift-giving this time of year. In the Christmas Story and Infancy Narratives Joseph and Mary-give up home and possessions, surrender to God's Holy Will, and abandon all for the All; and, paradoxically, by having less they gain more- the Incarnation. Our culture has basically turned this Sacred Story and holy plot-line on its head, and now mostly everyone is programmed to gain, get and grab all they can--a Subversion of the Story. Celebrate Advent and Christmas yourself by giving up some of your possessions and money and live more simply. Don't be hood winked-be enlightened and freed.

"Pleasure Principle": This is the most baroque time of year, with all the parties, the lights, the busybodyism and festivities-secular and sacred-our souls being drowned in oracular, gastronomic, visual and sensual ways…and we always seem to want more. Seems funny: weren't the events leading up to Jesus' Birth and Christmas itself simple, unrefined, stripped of excess? When we cultivate intentional spiritual lives we nurture Divine depth, which means going below the surface into deeper spiritual realities which fulfill, and that you don't' really need any more pleasures because the present-spiritual-now-moment in God is offering and delivering all you need. If tapped into this Divine Reality-Christ born into the "mangers of our hearts"-- one need not seek or crave any more excess or pleasures: "All is passing/God alone suffices" (St Teresa of Avilla).

Life and Anti-Life: Christmas is about life: New Life in and thru God-the-Child-King. Herod tries to subvert this Story and Salvation as the anti-life man who wanted to destroy The Child (Jesus). So do some politicians today who support abortion and,esp., most garishly, partial birth abortion. We may have thought Herod had died off-actually his lineage still continues in many a politician, and most unfortunately in Catholic politicians who support and legislate the killing of children. Subvert the subversion and Celebrate the Story -- Choose life: celebrate with your family, have babies, adopt them, save the Children wherever you can!

Christmas is About Giving: Kinda. Actually, its' about Love: "God so loved the world He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him might not perish but have Eternal Life" (Jn. 3:16). In the Subversion of the Story we are taught to neglect or forget that, at Christmas, God saves us from perishing in sin or Hell. He is our Savior : we should receive Him Who gives us Life and then gift-giving should come naturally afterwards. Ergo/therefore: it's not about us, it's about Him-Jesus Christ-" Love flowing upon Love" (Jn. 1:16). So: Celebrate the Story by giving, yes, but first receive-Him thru Holy Communion, inner stillness and recollection of meditation and contemplation. Allow the King into your heart!

A Lady of Beauty versus Destruction: The Infancy Narratives and Christmas also celebrate Mary as the Mother of God giving us Jesus-life. However, some women-and men--are taught to be anti-life-thru denying their fertility, using contraception, procuring abortions, and, as in the case of S Korea, illicitly receiving donated female-eggs for the cloning of human beings. Elsewhere, recently in Amman, Jordan, a lady went with her husband on a suicide bomb mission. They knew women, children and a wedding party were occupying a hotel where they went to kill. The lady was pictured on the cover of the New York Times dressed in scarves and veil and bomb-belt, and said: "I tried to detonate the bombs but failed. I saw people running everywhere, and so did I." How tragic and subversive of what women can do: give life. May she and all come to Jesus and Mary-a Lady of Beauty, not destruction, in a true Celebration of the Story of Life.

Pro-Life and Family: The Infancy Narratives and Christmas celebrate both of these needed realties-to the point of sacrifice. Recently a news story questioned Judge Alito, up for Supreme Court nomination, precisely because he ruled for unborn babies and in defense of the family in various past cases. This was news story was certainly a Subversion of the Story of Life. May judges and legislators and all of us support the unborn and families, just as we would hopefully love the Baby Jesus Himself and the Holy Family. Be alert to all those who want to subvert the Story of Life and help them to Celebrate Life in all ways.

Gimmickry Overextended: with all our technological tools--palm pilots, cell phones, computers, money, and intellectual prowess-children and young adults are subtlety taught they can control and manipulate their lives and destinies as demi-gods; and, just maybe, from time to time, let God in. Oppositely, in the Advent and Christmas Story the Holy Family, Magi and others barely had anything of their own. They gave up all in the pursuit of God and relied on His Way: Will you? Be vigilant about allowing modernism clouding out your call to mysticism and letting God be God. Will you more moderately balance modern machinery with the Supreme Mystery of God's Love?

Art: The Infancy Narratives and Christmas Story provide some of the most sublime and joyful art- masterpieces the world has ever known (see, for instance, present exhibits of Fra Angelico, the Dominican master, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC; and Sacred art of Novgorod (Holy Russia)--at Walters art Gallery in Balt). In today's art world, though, there is control by modernism, which often promotes the distortion and contortion of the human body-and beauty itself, shying away from realism and elegance. Christmas, everyone would agree-is beautiful. The Madonna's of Michelangelo and DaVinci, the countless Annunciations (of the blessed Virgin Mary) sublime in their depiction of the Lord and Lady's love now take back seat to art of modernism's mastication of body and soul. This is a Subversion of the Story: be aware, be alert. Celebrate the Story, rather, by displaying in your home or office (and by your computer) sacred art pieces of Eternal Spiritual Delight. And remember the ancient maxim: When you see the beautiful you may become beautiful within

God's Providence versus Evolution The Christmas Story and evolution both propose, of course from different standpoints, answers to the questions, What is Life? and How did we Get this Way? And yet the Bible's Sacred Stories intimate, as Pope Benedict recently stated, that God-the-Creator made us, that there is, really, no "chance" to, in life--only Divine Providence-and its all about Love. Will you be vigilant to Subversions of the Story and rather Celebrate the story of Love-God's Providence in Christ's Birth and your own? Whatever "Evolution " you did is priestly because of the grace-filled Love and Providence of God. Remember: it's a Plan not a sham.

Always available: this is the modern tantalization-thru all kinds of communicating devices-we're always supposed to be tuned in and reachable. Tuned in to what? To what is passing. Notice in the Infancy Narratives the Magi, the shepherds, Joseph and Mary were always tuned in-to God. They received, because they were spiritually accessible-all those instant messages--prayerful mystical ones from God: R U? Celebrate the Story this Advent by tuning out of the world and into Eternity. Remember, Jesus said: Be watchful Be alert

How to Respond:

Focus on Jesus, Mary and spiritual life: Esp this time of year this seems most impossible. But: stop complaining and develop a spiritual program (as a drug addict just described to me)-read the Bible, go to Mass (even daily), make a Confession, serve others…

Presence versus Divine Presence: is all that shopping really What It's All About? It may be distracting you from What It's All About-Jesus-the God-man come-into-the world, and He is there right in your local Church-tabernacle, Go visit Him. Most of all: Open your Heart to him more and more.

Advent= the anticipation by preparation for the Celebrating.

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi