I doubt very many of you are reading this, and that's a good thing.
It's not because I don't want people to read my writing. (That's sort of my job; I think I'm a journalist, or something.) But today isn't really a day for reading blogs, even Christian ones. And I trust you already know that.
I say the following with no presumption of knowing anyone's lot in life, so beg forgiveness of those who cannot in conscience look upon this day with the joy that I do. But I would be lying if I did not say how I truly feel, that I am so, so blessed.
One of many terms that wore out its welcome in 2015 was privilege. Everything was about checking one's privilege and grossly micromanaging one's everyday actions to as not to offend someone, somewhere. Any action, no matter how well-intended, if it somehow perceivably harmed someone, somewhere, was problematic (another addition to the Banned Terms 2016 list).
That having been said, the notion of privilege is not inherently problematic. At the beginning of the year, I mentioned that we too often confuse our rights with our gifts. In that same vein, we too often confuse our privilege with our blessings.
Our blessings don't fall out of the sky on a whim. They have to come from somewhere. Some are material, such as wealth. Some are immaterial, such as intelligence. But they all come from somewhere or Someone. Dwelling on the advantages of privilege distracts us from putting our blessings to work in the world around us. Remember, being a Christian is about faith and works. Prayer without action is like a construction worker without tools. One does not work without the other.
Christmas in New York has been unseasonably warm this year, but a thought that crosses my mind every Midnight Mass is, What about the homeless? I am one of many people in this building, happy and warm and soon to be fed, and at the end of the night, I will go home and be happy and warm and eventually fed, many times over. But how many people can't say the same?
Any resident of New York City who walks the streets sees them. War veterans. Young mothers. Teenagers exiled by their families. Many sit crouched with their heads hung in shame as the sunlight reflects off of jewellery in shop windows onto their cardboard signs; others huddle in the doorways of great Gothic churches, as if hiding in the shadow of Christ Himself. We scurry past them and avoid their sad gaze, but they are still there. They will be there when we wake, when we work, when we sleep, and yes, they are there when we sing carols in church and share holiday spiced wine with loved ones at the party after.
G.K. Chesterton once remarked that "Christmas is built upon a beautiful and intentional paradox; that the birth of the homeless should be celebrated in every home."
How insightful he was.
The mere fact that Jesus took on human form at all was an act of condescension unto Himself. And it would have been so had He been born to the wealthiest family on Earth, let alone become a child of a poor family, of a subjugated people, in an obscure, backwater province under the bootheel of a pagan empire.
When people seek to make churches more "humble" by denuding them, my first thought is how astoundingly elitist, how privileged such an attitude is. Do not the poor deserve beauty? How many souls, who have nothing and no-one else to comfort them, have sought refuge in God's house, because they had no house of their own? And yet we hide the Sacrament from them in a side closet. We throw out the loving images of Jesus and His Mother — who is our Mother, and their Mother! — and of all of the Saints who lived every day of their lives for Him. And we turn the Mass into a show for our entertainment, rather than His glory.
Is it all for the impoverished people amongst us? Or for our impoverished egos?
I ask that you remember this Christmas those who believe they cannot celebrate this day. The gifts we give one another are not really for Him, yet He is the gift for us, and for those people, too.
Merry Christmas, all of you. For the next twelve days, even when your neighbours throw their trees in the gutter, even when the stores put up their Valentine's Day decorations obscenely early, even when your awkward cousin Brian stumbles down the basement stairs on New Year's Eve — Merry Christmas.
Never forget why you are so blessed as to be born to celebrate this day, because He chose to be born, to love us, to die, to defeat death. For me. For you. For them.