December 25, 2016 Click on the left end of the black bar to play/pause
December 25, 2016
Fr. George Smiga
Christmas is a great Christian feast, a day on which we remember the birth of Jesus who we believe is Savior and Lord. I imagine that many of you here know a great many things about the customs, the food, the music, and the history that surround this holiday. But here is something you might not know. Do you know that many of the most popular Christmas carols were not written by Christians? They were written by Jews. “White Christmas” which is the most recorded Christmas song of all time was written by Irving Berlin whose father was a Rabbi. Jews also wrote “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire,” “Silver Bells,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” “Winter Wonderland,” and “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” Even the song “Christmastime Is Near,” from “A Charlie Brown’s Christmas,” was written by a Jewish author. Now it is unexpected, isn’t it, that the line from the carol “Do You Hear What I Hear,”—A child, a child sleeping in the night, he will bring us goodness and light—was written by someone who was not Christian?
The Jewish authorship of so many of our Christmas songs is a reminder that the thrust of Christmas is to open us wider. Christmas is always pushing us to be more expansive, more inclusive in our love. Usually we see Christmas as a time to be with those closest to us, our family and friends. Certainly that is central to this feast. But Christmas is always asking us to reach out of the circle of relationships in which we live. You can hear this invitation in the words of the angel to the shepherds, “I bring you good news of great joy for all the people.” Not just some of the people, or certain people, but all of the people. You can recognize this in the way that Luke begins his Christmas story with the reign of the Emperor Augustus and an enrolment of the whole world. By this Luke tells us that the love of Jesus is not to be restricted only to Bethlehem or Jerusalem but is to extend to Rome and to the ends of the earth. God loves all people, and all that God has made.
The Word of God invites us to respond to that love and to imitate it. Christmas calls us to extend our arms wider, to adjust our attitudes more broadly, to live our lives with more generosity. It is not simply a time to focus on our family and friends. It is certainly not a time to tighten our hearts out of indifference or fear. Christmas invites us to reach out in love and care to the poor in our cities, to the immigrants on our borders, to the protection of our environment, to those who do not share our Christian faith but still have dignity as children of God.
So when you gather together tonight or tomorrow with your family and friends, by all means be thankful and rejoice for the people who are closest to you. But do not stop there. Take up the challenge of Christmas to widen your love. I know, of course, that it is difficult for us to spread out our love more broadly. But if Jews can write Christmas carols, cannot we as followers of Jesus find room in our hearts to let more people in?