Merry Christmas, everyone out there in GetReligion-land who is celebrating this fine morning!
For those who are curious, most of the Orthodox here in North America celebrate Christmas on the Western calendar, so my family is sleeping in this morning after a glorious service of the Divine Liturgy that began about 10 p.m. last night and ended with a feast that got us home and into bed about 3 a.m.
But, hey, let’s read the newspapers a bit while the not-so-little-ones sleep in.
One of my favorite Christmas news games is to read the online text of the pope’s Christ Mass sermon. Then, after you do that, you read the newspaper accounts — especially the words from on high in the sacred pages of The New York Times.
Want to play along? OK, click here for the text from Pope Benedict XVI. Read it all.
Now pick a favorite passage, the passage that clearly is crucial to the pope. I think mine, this year, is about halfway into the text, where Benedict reminds us that the Cross looms over the stable. This is the Good News in a broken world:
In the stable of Bethlehem, the very town where it had all begun, the Davidic kingship started again in a new way — in that child wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. The new throne from which this David will draw the world to himself is the Cross. The new throne — the Cross — corresponds to the new beginning in the stable. Yet this is exactly how the true Davidic palace, the true kingship is being built. This new palace is so different from what people imagine a palace and royal power ought to be like. It is the community of those who allow themselves to be drawn by Christ’s love and so become one body with him, a new humanity. The power that comes from the Cross, the power of self-giving goodness — this is the true kingship. The stable becomes a palace — and setting out from this starting-point, Jesus builds the great new community, whose key-word the angels sing at the hour of his birth: “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth to those whom he loves” — those who place their will in his, in this way becoming men of God, new men, a new world.
Now, as some of our readers would say, the actual message of Christmas is not news. It is old hat, which means that the goal of the wise journalist is to seek a news angle that is more relevant for modern readers than the mere message that dominated the sermon text. There has to be something here about the real world, which means politics.
So what is the newsworthy angle?
Well, the pope does talk about a new earth, a new creation and the fact that the current creation — earth, body and soul — is not in great shape. Thus, the Times lede is:
Pope Benedict XVI reinforced the Vatican’s growing concern with protecting the environment in the traditional midnight Christmas Mass on Tuesday, bemoaning an “ill-treated world” in a homily given to thousands of pilgrims here in the seat of the world’s billion Roman Catholics.
On the day Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ some 2,000 years ago, Benedict referred to one early father of the church, Gregory of Nyssa, a bishop in what is now Turkey. “What would he say if he could see the state of the world today, through the abuse of energy and its selfish and reckless exploitation?” the pope asked, according to the Vatican’s English translation.
He expanded on the theme briefly by saying that an 11th-century theologian, Anselm of Canterbury, had spoken “in an almost prophetic way” as he “described a vision of what we witness today as a polluted world whose future is at risk.”
Now that theme is there. No doubt about it.
So read the text and try to decide if that is the major, dominant theme of this sermon. I guess it was between that and the pope’s sure-to-be-controversial words of praise for liturgical music (yet another sign of the spirit of death of Vatican II). Oh, and watch for the crucial use of the softening phrase “what he suggested”!
So a happy Christmas, one and all. And as we say in the East, “Christ is born! Glorify Him!”