Fig, vine, and olive were so close to the hearts of Israelites that they never ever imagined a time when their crops would fail to produce anything. Yet Habakkuk wrote; ‘Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines, though the produce of the olive fails and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold and there is no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord’(Hab 3:17-18).
To those who, like Habakkuk, learn the hard way to rejoice in the Lord even in times of adversity, the Lord will say; ‘Enter into the joy of your master’ (Mt 25:23). Those are the people lucky to enter the Lord’s dinner table for which invitations were already sent, but the invitees refused it. To certain others the Lord will ‘fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them’ (Lk 12:37). They earn this coveted position by their alertness in waiting for their master. Though they did not know the time of the return of their master they were ready to open the door for him, be it ‘during the middle of the night, or near dawn’ (Lk 12:38).
These are days when we wait for the Lord. Our fasting, prayers, and penance during these twenty five days are nothing but simple exercises to get rid of the excess flab from us so that we might be able to get through the eye of the needle. There is no scope of the eye of the needle getting bigger, because the Lord himself has clarified that it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than a letter or a stroke of a letter to pass from the law until all is accomplished (Mt 5:18).
Jesus cannot change because he is beyond every change. ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever’ (Heb: 13:8). Then we are the only ones who have a possibility to change. But do we really want it?
We are eager to enter the gates of heaven. But the gate is too narrow. We, in our folly try to make it broader, without ever thinking of the easier option of making ourselves lean so as to fit the gate! With every such futile exercise, we think that the standards of heaven will come down to match our standards. We are trying to confine God within the logical limits of our poorly developed reasoning that when coupled with our scant faith makes it a deadly combination.
We will create Christmas stars with explicitly obscene themes and will also show the audacity to put them for exhibition at the last place that we can think of; our parish church! We have no concern about a sacramental life, nor are we very particular about attending the church on Sundays. Yet we celebrate Christmas and congratulate ourselves for the sumptuous dinner we prepared, the drinks we enjoyed, and the fellowship we shared, all without Jesus!
Jesus Christ was a ‘sign that will be opposed’ (Lk 2:34). The controversies surrounding him were there right from the first Christmas. When he blessed the wise men from the east, he did not let Herod’s people come near him. When he told the disciples that he was indeed the truth, he did not care to answer Pilate when he asked what the truth was (Jn 18:38). Though he revealed himself to Simeon and Anna when they first met him, the priests and princes of this world could not recognize the Son of God even after a hundred meetings! Paul laments; ‘If they had (understood), they would not have crucified the Lord of glory’ (1 Cor 2:8).
This controversy about who Jesus is and what for he came to this world will remain there until the dawn of the last Christmas. The great day of our Lord’s return to this world in glory is what we call the final Christmas. Jesus was very much aware of the way the world was going to think of him and the endless controversies and meaningless theological debates that started at his birth and continued till his ascension and further to the period leading to his second coming. Jesus also knew that these ungodly philosophies, put to maximum use by the enemy, will put off the flame of faith from the hearts of many. This is the background when he asks; ‘And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Lk 18:8). We should thank Jesus Christ for the simple fact that we are here until this moment, firm in faith and blessed to celebrate some Christmases before the last Christmas.
To rejoice in the Lord is another name for celebrating Christmas. Not much after the ascension of Jesus, there was a man who so rejoicing in the Lord looked up to heaven. His name was Stephen. ‘…and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God’ (Job 19:26). Job wrote these words as his own story as also to remind us that what Stephen did after many centuries was a sort of fulfillment of his prophetic words. This made Stephen’s face shine ‘like the face of an angel’ (Acts 6:15) when he was confronted by a crowd mad to the point of stoning him to death. It was almost during the same time that Peter and other apostles ‘left the council rejoicing that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name (of Jesus)’ (Acts 5:41).
We can celebrate Christmas in two ways. By rejoicing in the Lord and by immersing ourselves in the material pleasures of this world. Christmas itself is of two types, Christmas with Christ and Christmas without Christ. The majority of celebrations that we see around us relate to something without the presence of Christ. It is the Christmas of those who could not rejoice in the Lord even on the day of his birth. It is impossible for anyone or anything to satisfy a person who could not find joy in living with the Lord. It is quite natural that a son who could not appreciate the value of his father’s love will end up in a pigsty. And indeed the Christmas celebrated in the company of pigs will be one without Christ.
Those who celebrate Christmas ‘looking at wine when it is red and when it sparkles in the cup’ (Prov 23:31) do not know what they are paying in exchange for this filthy pleasure. Those who mark the birth of the Lord of life even while sitting comfortably in the ‘snares of death’ (Prov 13:14) do not know where they are heading to. The mystery and joy of Christmas that is ‘hidden from the wise and the intelligent but revealed to the infants’ (Mt 11:25) is alien to them.
The Christmas of those who could not rejoice in the Lord is like ‘waterless clouds carried along by the winds and like autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, uprooted’ (Jude 12-13). In the words that follow this rather open admonition, we find a reflection of what we should expect in the final Christmas, when our pilgrimage should reach its destination. ‘See, the Lord is coming with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all, and to convict everyone of all the deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him’ (Jude 14-15).
It should dawn on us that every Christmas that we celebrate is a preparation for the last Christmas, which the prophets, apostles and Jesus himself called the great day of the Lord. It will be a Christmas with no Christmas trees, no cribs, and no stars. The city that our God has prepared for us – Heavenly Jerusalem- does not have a temple either. ’ I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb’ (Rev 21:22).
As ‘we groan in this tent, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling’ (2 Cor 5:2) our fig trees might not blossom and our vines might not yield us anything. Our olive trees might hesitate to bear fruit. Our fields will be barren and our share will be a fold deserted by the flock and a stall bereft of the herd. But those who, in spite of all adversities, tune their hearts to the Lord to rejoice in him are assured of something great, ‘that no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived’ (1 Cor 2:9).
Let us rejoice in the Lord in this Christmas season. Paul the Apostle also exhorts; ‘Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice’ (Phil 4:4).