Thoughts for the Old and New Year

Sing We “Noel!”

01Contemporary Neopolitan Presepio (crèche)
The goodness and kindness of God our Savior appeared to all God’s people in the Nativity on that Holy Night. That birth made the hearts of all believers exclaim "Noel", that carol of joy, peace and happiness. "Noel", the French equivalent of our Christmas, is the opening of many mediaeval canticles that rehearse the old-time Christian mirth at the annual recurrence of Bethlehem's Idyll. "Noel! Noel" . . . "Fall on your knees and adore the newborn Savior, for it's midnight, Christian people!"

"Noel" is possible to this needy world because of the kindness and goodness of Christ. It is really for the individual person only when life is lived according to God’s will.
“For the grace of God has appeared, saving all and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age, as we await the blessed hope, the appearance of the glory of the great God and of our savior Jesus Christ…” (Titus 2:11-13)…

The real "Noel" is had in the interior of our hearts that rejoices in the advent of the Lord and looks for the blessed hope of Christ’s coming. A chaste caress of joy is exchanged in the fond embrace of a fervent Communion; the sweetness of religion begets bliss untold in the hard wood of the Cross; the fullness of the spirit imparts surpassing tranquility in the right ordering of things. When we clasp each other's hand in "A Merry Christmas", it's the symbol of peace and friendship, the magnet of God's blessing – then the word, "Noel", becomes a true expression of our joy and gratefulness.

The House of Bread

Bethlehem in ancient Greek means "House of Bread" – and the name is indeed significant for the manger held Christ, "the living bread that came down from heaven" (John 6:51). It is the home from where the Son of God becomes flesh and blood, food and drink, for the salvation of all.
02 A rare 1698 view of Bethlehem by Cornelius de Bruijin; depicts the city and nearby herding grounds, most likely rendered in secret since Holy Land was under the control of the Ottoman Empire.If Bethlehem had not been, there would have been no Capernaum with the multiplication of loaves and the subsequent promise of another food that would bestow life everlasting; there would have been no Cenacle where the new Pasch would be eaten in the holy institution of the Blessed Eucharist and the carrying-on of this hallowed rite would be promulgated in the sweet yet solemn injunction of doing this "in memory of me." From Bethlehem did proceed the life-giving Bread. Jesus kept his word and fulfilled its meaning.

Bethlehem was the first exterior tabernacle set up for the Word-Made-Flesh who would eventually give himself to his disciples: there had already been an interior sanctuary in the womb of the Virgin Mary during the Advent of his birth. We still have our own Bethlehem, our House of Bread, with us in the tabernacle of our churches and chapels preserved for our blessing. On certain evenings from there, encased in a radiant monstrance, it is raised aloft in benediction. Day and night our God still lives in his House of Bread.

Some questions to ponder: do we approach our Bethlehem with awe and wonder like the guardians of the night-flocks? In its presence do we kneel in adoration like Mary and Joseph? Let the Tabernacle be our Bethlehem and we won't have to journey in pilgrimage to the Holy Land to see the dwelling of our Emmanuel, God-With-Us. We won't have to envy those fortunate people who personally enjoyed the presence of Jesus of Nazareth in the days when he trod the hill-country of Judea – for Christ is still with us, near us and in us in the Bethlehem of the New Testament – our Emmanuel!

The Crib of Bethlehem

Love is ingenious in representing its beloved; it finds many a way to keep its cherished object ever present or put before others.
03The Adoration of the Magi by Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640)

Poor Francis of Assisi had a passion for Christ; he loved his dear Lord with a consuming flame; he found his loving and lovable Savior everywhere, especially in nature did he keep holy rendezvous with the Spouse of whom his heart was enamored.

One Christmas Eve, the Babe of Bethlehem burnt within his frame so much that he expressed his affection in the shape of a Nativity representation, elegantly simple, yet thrilling and sublime, and then he knelt in prayer and was wrapped in ecstasy at the love of God for all humankind.

Such is the origin of the Crib of Bethlehem, the hallowed picture of the manger where Mary laid the Christ-child in swaddling clothes. Tradition has continually preserved this display by "Il Poverello (the poor one)". It is reproduced in every Christian chapel at Christmastide. Many churchgoers visit and kneel at this Nativity Shrine and feel their hearts melt as the silent graphic story of Bethlehem moves them once more.

Francis of Assisi built that crèche because he had a real crib in his heart. He made his soul into a little Bethlehem. So too must we turn our heart into a crib for the coming of Christ in every Eucharist. There must be solitude in our heart… The light of God's grace must illumine our soul like the dazzling brightness of the cavern… Thus in our heart will be set up a real crib, such as truly inspired the poor man of Assisi that Christmas Eve so many centuries ago.

Silver Threads Among the Gold of Our Life’s Tapestry

Our life is a tapestry being woven on a loom by God’s own hand. The skein of yarn that is our lives is almost entirely woven and as it is examined, unexpectedly there are found silver threads among the gold. The silver threads of God's mercies run through the warp and woof of our lives and the golden braids are the joys and benefits of his bountiful hand.
04Model of Navajo Loom, late 19th century. Wool, cotton, wood, in the Brooklyn Museum, New York

Some days there were catches, knots, and other defects in the spinning that made work hard – such were our sins, our failings and transgressions; for them we plead, “Miserere (Lord, have mercy)” with the royal psalmist of old. On other days there was smoothness in the making and weaving – the threads were not tangled and the twists came apart and the warp didn't break – such were the blessings and favors of the our loving God; for them we are grateful and chant our own, “Te Deum (Praise be to God)”.

The golden threads that run through our skein are many indeed – life, work, profession, happiness – but the silver threads of the Lord's Mercies seem numerous too – the pardon of daily and weekly offenses, the providential turn of events, and our carrying of the cross to bring about our salvation. Yes, indeed, “Welcome is (God’s) mercy in time of distress as rain clouds in time of drought” (Sirach 35:26).

Both threads, the golden and the silver, are pretty and their weaving also possesses grace and elegance but the spinner of life's precious skein must see that no knots creep in; that is, that a just proportion stands between benefits and mercies.

Fare-thee-well, this Year of Our Lord! Have mercy on us as we give our heart-felt thanks to you, loving God! Please guide us on our way.

(Reprinted from the La Salette publication, The La Salette Missionary, December, 1930, “Christmas Thoughts”, pgs. 177-178, edited for length and content)

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