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The Word Encountered
December 25, 2021
John Kavanaugh, SJ

The Centrality of Christ

“Through Jesus Christ, our savior!”

In Calcutta even the poorest Catholic families will look for their whitest saris and dhotis or their newest pressed shirts to attend Mass at midnight or early Christmas day. They will file up to the child in the crib who is surrounded by mother and father, shepherds, and friendly beasts.

In Harare, Zimbabwe, the Gloria, song of angels, will be chanted in rich harmony, matching the splendor of color in gowns and vestments. Rich and poor, black and white, young and old in this capital of Zimbabwe will approach the altar to welcome the body of Christ.

What, indeed, so inspires the human heart here and now on Christmas day, whether it be celebrated in Anchorage or Cape Town?.
In Hong Kong and Santiago, Melbourne and Leeds, Galway and New Orleans, Managua and Prague, lines of women, men, and children will all approach the same Lord to be sustained by his very life.

They will witness the same reality of the consecration in words and languages as diverse as the contours of the earth. And they will honor the same birth of one child in one particular hovel, billions of moments ago, in a village named Bethlehem.

Christmas is a great feast of both concrete particularity and universal import. Christmas is not merely about some Western heritage or ethnic celebration. It is about humanity and the heavens. It is about us.

In Isaiah’s promise of the messiah, God speaks to all the ends of the earth. Zion, the old and new, shall be a sign of the holy and redeemed of God. Our psalms are filled with prodigious claims. This king is the joy of the earth, of all the islands. His justice, proclaimed by the very heavens, is for all generations to witness.

St. Paul reminds us quite directly how central Christ is to us and our salvation. “When the kindness and love of God our savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any righteous deeds we had done, but because of his mercy.” The Spirit of God is lavished on us through Jesus Christ who saves and justifies us. We all become heirs in hope of eternal life.

That the eternal word of God became flesh is a message as much for the entire world as it is for Jew or Christian. “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to God’s people on earth.”

What was the event that the angels announced? What was the mystery that God made known to shepherds? What was it that they saw and understood? What was revealed in the baby resting in the manger? What could be astonishing about it? What was there worth treasuring, worth pondering, and praising?

What, indeed, so inspires the human heart here and now at Christmas time, whether it be celebrated in Anchorage or Cape Town? Does it not reach far beyond Europe, far deeper than the thoughts of theologians? Is it not far more wondrous than projections of human consciousness?

Christmas means that God not only created space and time: God entered them, became our flesh and blood, our kin, our child.

There is something here of more than mere sectarian import, more than a cultural fable competing with the other stories of our start and finish. Christmas is a high and holy secret about every mother’s child for all time.

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Father Kavanaugh was a professor of Philosophy at St. Louis University in St. Louis. He reached many people during his lifetime.
The Word Encountered: Meditations on the Sunday Scriptures
Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York (1996), pp. 9-11.
Art by Martin Erspamer, OSB
from Religious Clip Art for the Liturgical Year (A, B, and C). This art may be reproduced only by parishes who purchase the collection in book or CD-ROM form. For more information go
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