Sunday, Jan. 1, is the Octave day of the Nativity of the Lord and the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God.
Pope Benedict XVI gives his World Day of Peace message on Jan. 1. This year’s address is directed to educating young people about peace. He leads by example, educating young people this way:
“To all, and to young people in particular, I wish to say emphatically: ‘It is not ideologies that save the world, but only a return to the living God, our Creator, the guarantor of our freedom, the guarantor of what is really good and true … an unconditional return to God who is the measure of what is right and who at the same time is everlasting love. And what could ever save us apart from love?’ Love takes delight in truth; it is the force that enables us to make a commitment to truth, to justice, to peace, because it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
Numbers 6:22-27; Psalm 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:16-21
In Charles Dickens’ great novel Oliver Twist, the title character finds himself in a strange predicament that he only gradually becomes aware of.
He is the son of a kindly, well-off couple, but, starting at birth, the machinations of a jealous half-brother threaten to destroy his life. He grows up in a series of bad situations — first in the cruel orphanages and workhouses of 19th-century London, and then in a literal den of thieves.
Remarkably, though, Oliver never gives in to his rough surroundings. He stands up for justice in the poor houses, and he refuses to steal like “the Artful Dodger” and the others in the house of robbers.
He is, by analogy, what a Christian should be, as described by St. Paul in today’s second reading.
This Sunday is the eighth day of Christmas — a second Christmas Day, liturgically, and on this Second Christmas Day, St. Paul gives us as succinct a statement of the Gospel as you are likely to find.
In calling us “adopted sons of God,” it introduces us to the story of our salvation — a story that casts us a bit as Oliver Twists.
“When the fullness of time had come,” he writes, “God sent his Son.”
St. Paul sees in Christ the culmination of everything that came before and the beginning of everything that would follow after.
After Adam and Eve’s family went awry, Jesus founded a new family — one that is passed on through the sacraments, which incorporate us into the body of Christ, with Mary as our mother.
By suffering and dying for us, Christ made us his brothers and sisters, “so that we might receive adoption as sons,” says St. Paul.
But while he gave us membership into this special family, Christ left us in the same world we were in before — a world that, like Dickens’ London, includes wonderful things and frightening things, side by side.
We are called to be like Oliver Twists in this world, showing by our behavior — and our faith and our hope — that we belong to a great family.
But we don’t do it on our own. God gives us the power to do this, says Paul: “As proof that you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’”
It is God’s grace that allows us to live a pure, Christian life amid outlaws and cruelty: “You are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then also an heir, through God.”
On this eighth day of Christmas, the Gospel reminds us of how radical this new family was. We celebrate Mary, Mother of God, who is our mother too. We learn how amazed the shepherds were at seeing the Infant Jesus. And we also celebrate the inclusion of Jesus in the Holy Family on the eighth day, when he ritually became Jewish and received his name.
Like Mary, we can stare in wonder at the Christ Child today and ponder in our heart what it means for us to be in this extraordinary family. And, like Oliver Twist, we can walk through the distractions, temptations and bad influences of our difficult world and act as the noble souls we are by baptism.
Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas,
where Tom is writer in residence at Benedictine College.