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A Christmas debate

by davesandel on December 27th, 2019

A Christmas debate

Friday, December 27, 2019

What we looked upon and touched with our hands concerns the Word of life. And we are writing this so our joy may be complete. ­

– From 1 John 1

In his Christmas message Ron Rolheiser invoked Karl Rahner’s beautiful sentiment tying together Christmas and Easter: “Do not be afraid to be happy.”

Rolheiser resists a bit. “The meaning of Christ and Christmas is hardly the stuff of our Christmas lights, carols, cribs, and Santa. Does Calvary cast a permanent shadow on Bethlehem?”

But Rahner insists. He reminds us with imagined words of Jesus:

I am the blind alleys of all your paths, for when you no longer know how to go any further, then you have reached me. And then say only one thing, “I am here,” and that is Christmas for you. Don’t say anything more, only “I am here.” Because I am there with you, and it is Christmas. Light the candles. They have more right to exist than all the darkness.

 Rolheiser agrees at last and sternly rejoices. “The crib trumps the cross, even as the cross does not fully disappear. Christmas invites us to be happy, and this demands of us an elemental asceticism, a fasting from our adult cynicism and a discipline of joy. This will hold the cross and crib together so we can live in a joy which no one, and no tragedy, can take from us.”

Mary Magdalene walked straight into the darkness of Jesus’ tomb, and it was empty. “They have taken the Lord from the tomb!” she said. (John 20) But they took no pause to remember Jesus’ promises of resurrection. His body had been stolen, and they did not know where it was. Their tragedy, their own blind alley, left them stranded and utterly alone, bereft of even the remains of Jesus.

But you and I, and Rahner too, have heard the end of the story. Jesus will not leave us alone, not from the moment of Christmas birth to the moment of resurrection, to the moment of ascension, to our own moments of transfiguration. We are not bereft, not caught napping, not held captive down some dark alley.

I remember Warner Sallman’s famous picture of Jesus standing outside the cottage door with his right hand raised. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” The painting hung for years and years on my parents’ bedroom wall. Rahner’s Jesus, knocking, hears me say inside the house, “I am here.” He walks in and we are here together.

Savory smells waft out from the kitchen. Jesus sits down and asks for something to eat. I look sharply at him, surprised for a moment. But then I see. Jesus wants to eat with me.

I can’t wait to share. Rolheiser knows this. “Despite all the disillusion within our adult lives, Christmas still offers us depressed adults that wonderful invitation. This allows us, as John Shea poetically puts it, to jump headlong into the pudding!“

Your words, Lord, whisper in my ear. They rinse my soul and call me in to rest. “I am here, David.” Nothing more, nothing more I need. Forever and for always, Lord, you are the God of me.

 Ronald Rolheiser column,, December 21, 2015

Karl Rahner, The Great Church Year: The Best of Karl Rahner’s Homilies, Sermons, and Meditations. Quoted by Rolheiser and also by Matt Emerson, America Magazine, December 30, 2013

John Shea, Starlight: Beholding the Christmas Miracle All ¥ear Long, 2006

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