The Overlooked Lesson
As a wordworker, I'm endlessly intrigued by what lessons Mother Church serves up at each meal. Christmas, not surprisingly, gets some of the richest fare of the year.
First there's Isaiah, waxing exultant as people who walked in darkness see a great light, as their yoke of oppression is shattered, as a child is born to us. The Gospel brings us scriptural superstars: Mary, Joseph, the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes -- and, in the same country, shepherds.
And then there's Titus. One of Paul's converts, he helped sort out the quarrelsome Corinthians and planted churches on Crete. There he received one of Paul's many letters, brimming with directions. Two sentences from the second chapter serve as the epistle for Christmas:
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds. (Titus 2:11-14)
Not quite a best seller, is it? It's hard to picture millions tuning in each year to watch the Peanuts characters portray uprightness and godliness. Good deeds evoke the Scouts more than the saints. And yet . . .
Those breathless Pauline run-ons, laden with prim language, yield clues to a faithful response to Christ's coming. The classic Christmas passages bring thrilling news; the modest Titus reading tells us how to live it out. "And the point is," poet Rainer Maria Rilke famously wrote, "to live everything."
The way to incarnate God's good news in 2014, Paul tells us, is to accept "training," opening ourselves to new ways of thinking and living. To persevere in following a godly vision of true human worth when nihilistic materialism clouds our sight. To turn the vague poetry of "Christmas spirit" into the solid prose of real good deeds undertaken for real people.
The overlooked lesson may seem staid. But its guidance, lovingly grasped and faithfully followed, offers a path toward peace on Earth, goodwill to all.