In the Heart of the Church: Archbishop Charles Chaput
"Christmas: a revolution sparked by god's love and
Archbishop of Denver Charles Chaput
December 22, 2010
anyone who seeks out the real meaning of “the holidays,” the last
few days before Christmas are the most powerful period of Advent and
one of the most beautiful times in the year. The Octave before
Christmas, Dec. 17-23, is the time of the “O Antiphons.”
In Christian worship, an
antiphon is a special prayer recited or chanted before a psalm or canticle. The
“O Antiphons” refer to the seven antiphons recited before the Magnificat during
Vespers in the Liturgy of the Hours. They entered the Church’s liturgy as early
as the fifth century. By the eighth century they were a regular part of
Christian liturgical life in Rome. Thus, they belong to a very ancient Advent
tradition of glorifying God. Each O Antiphon names a title for God’s Anointed
One: O Wisdom; O Lord; O Root of Jesse; O Key of David; O Rising Sun; O King of
the Nations; O Emmanuel (which means, “God with us”).
Each antiphon is linked
by Scripture to the prophecy in Isaiah of the coming of the Messiah.
One of the biggest
sadnesses of modern life is this: We’ve mistaken comfort for happiness, and as a
result, the pursuit of satisfaction has taken away our joy. We live in a culture
increasingly based on the strange idea that whatever we want, we deserve—and we
should also have it, right now; a culture that constantly teases our appetites,
fabricates new “needs” and then urges us to want more. This is a recipe for
emptiness and discontent. As C.S. Lewis said more than 50 years ago, it’s little
wonder that many people, including many Christians, become so fed up with the
“holiday” seasonal frenzy that they endure it rather than enjoy it, and can’t
wait for it to be over.
In contrast, the more
deeply we live Advent, and the more prayerfully and patiently we wait for the
coming of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem, then the more fully we experience the joy
of Christmas. For Catholics throughout the centuries, Christmas Eve begins the
Christmas season, which continues through the Epiphany to the Baptism of the
Lord. As the popular saying rightly goes, Jesus is the reason for the season.
Taking Christ out of “the holidays” removes any real joy—the winter solstice is
an interesting natural fact, but for moderns, the shortest day of the year is a
pretty thin reason to celebrate—and it makes “peace on earth” a well-meaning but
implausible platitude. There is no peace on earth; nor can there ever be without
the cross of Jesus Christ.
During these final
Advent days of the O Antiphons, the Church gives us a last opportunity to settle
our spirits, quiet our worries and refocus our hearts on the One who should
anchor our lives. Human history changed fundamentally and forever in Bethlehem.
The child we wait for is the hope of all men and women, in every culture, in
every age. The joy of Christmas has very little to do with the gifts we give or
get. What begins at Bethlehem and leads to Golgotha and beyond is a
revolution—the most profound in history and the only real one; a revolution
sparked by God’s intervention and love.
May God grant all of us
the grace to experience Christmas for what it truly is; and may he bless every
one of us and our families with a holy, joyful and Christ-centered Christmas
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