Think ye green (and Christ is born)!

VaticanNativity 1Merry 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?

pope benedict xvi christmas 7Well, 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!”

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Jerry

    Personally I’d say the dominant theme is the perennial and ecumenical theme of selfishness and humility

    In some way, mankind is awaiting God, waiting for him to draw near. But when the moment comes, there is no room for him. Man is so preoccupied with himself, he has such urgent need of all the space and all the time for his own things, that nothing remains for others – for his neighbour, for the poor, for God. And the richer men become, the more they fill up all the space by themselves. And the less room there is for others

    Heaven does not belong to the geography of space, but to the geography of the heart. And the heart of God, during the Holy Night, stooped down to the stable: the humility of God is Heaven. And if we approach this humility, then we touch Heaven. Then the Earth too is made new. With the humility of the shepherds, let us set out, during this Holy Night, towards the Child in the stable! Let us touch God’s humility, God’s heart! Then his joy will touch us and will make the world more radiant. Amen.

  • gfe

    That New York Times piece is disappointing at best. Actually, it approaches being dreadful. It suggests that the homily was political in nature, when it clearly wasn’t. And when the pope was talking about the Earth being made new, he wasn’t talking about environmental activism.

    One thing I liked about the homily is that while it was definitely Catholic in outlook, it was also quite catholic: As a non-Catholic Christian, I found it inspiring.

    If he had given the New York Times version of the homily, I wouldn’t have been inspired, even if I would have probably agreed.

    I thought the AP did a much better job (which wouldn’t have been difficult):

    Pope Benedict XVI urged the faithful to set aside time in their lives for God and the needy, as he ushered in Christmas early Tuesday by celebrating Midnight Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica.

    Echoing a theme he has raised about an increasingly secular world, Benedict said that many people act as if there is no room for spiritual matters in their lives.

    “Man is so preoccupied with himself, he has such urgent need of all the space and all the time for his own things, that nothing remains for others, for his neighbor, for the poor, for God,” he said.

    I’m not sure which part of the homily is my favorite; there’s so much in there. But I did like his development of the theme that Christmas represents the bringing together of heaven and Earth:

    According to the Fathers, part of the angels’ Christmas song is the fact that now angels and men can sing together and in this way the beauty of the universe is expressed in the beauty of the song of praise. … It is the encounter with Jesus Christ that makes us capable of hearing the song of the angels, thus creating the real music that fades away when we lose this singing-with and hearing-with.

  • tmatt


    Dang it. I should have checked the AP. That is much better — especially the second paragraph as a transition to that key quote.

    Good stuff.

    Anybody else have a key passage to underline?

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Maybe the problem is the news medias fanatic obsession to politicize all religion while studiously ignoring all that is not tied to something “current.”
    But since most Christians–including most Catholics–have only the shallowest (if any at all) understanding of traditional Christian and Catholic teachings–any emphasis or spotlight on them is going to be “News” to most of the media’s readers.
    Maybe one day the headline on a statement or document written by the pope will read: “Pope emphasizes traditional Church teachings” followed by a list of these teachings (with quotes from the pope’s actual words) with some short, but in-depth, explanations of them. This would be far fairer and more honest than trying to pretzelize the pope’s statement to make it look like the pope has become an Al Gore clone.