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A Christmas Light To The Secular World

December 28, 2013 Featured Today No Comments

By DEACON MIKE MANNO

A deacon’s ministry can be as varied as the parish and the diocese he serves. During the past year I have presided over numerous marriages, ministered to felons suffering from addiction, whispered the commendation of the dying into the ear of a high school friend as he lay comatose, and assisted at the funeral of a law school classmate. I have hosted our bishop on his radio program, preached routinely, and served as director of a crisis pregnancy center.
But of all the things that I do, baptizing children always has a special meaning at Christmas.
There is something about the excitement of a new set of parents, especially those who are becoming parents for the first time. Recently, I had a couple who had great difficulty bringing a baby to term. Miscarriage followed miscarriage until the couple had almost given up hope. Finally, after many prayers their miracle occurred and they were gifted with a healthy baby boy. I remember their excitement at the Baptism, and I remember the mother’s tears of joy as I closed the baptismal rite with the blessing of the child’s mother.
You see, there is something exciting about a baby.
Often, as I prepare for a Baptism I will visit the family in their home. Many times they will show me the new nursery and dad will explain how he repainted the room, pink or blue, depending on what the ultrasound told him, and mom would point to the curtains and outfits for which she was responsible. And just as often the couple will show me a gift from a favorite aunt and tell me the story that went along with it.
The preparation and excitement are always there, even to the second and third child. There is something exciting about a baby.
On Christmas Day we celebrate the birth of another Baby, yet sometimes our excitement about that Baby is lost in the commotion surrounding the secular celebration of His birth. Society seems to spend its preparation time busy preparing meals, planning travel, and in list making and gift buying. In our secular world we overlook the true meaning of the day, the simple miracle of the Incarnation that took place in a little obscure village over 2,000 years ago.
There is, during the baptismal rite, a place for a Gospel reading. The one I always chose — unless, of course, the parents ask for a different reading — is from the Gospel of Matthew: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
That, of course, is the Great Commission given to us by Jesus to make disciples, to convert the unbeliever, to teach the truth. But how well have we done that?
Ever increasingly, we look out at a world that has substituted its own god for the Baby born of Mary. It is a god of accommodation with the world, not the God who has created the world; a god of rationalization, not the God of absolute truth. It becomes “Happy Holidays” not “Merry Christmas,” a day of reindeer in the sky, not sheep in a manger.
Yes, we prepare well for our own children, and we baptize them in joyful ceremonies, but have we followed the rest of the Great Commission? Have we taught, have we converted, or have we accommodated ourselves to the surrounding culture allowing it to push aside the message of Bethlehem?
This is a joyous time for all Christians, but as we welcome the birth of Him who is our Savior, we need to take stock of how our collective shortcomings have allowed His birth to have such a distorted meaning to so many of our fellow citizens. As we welcome Him into our hearts, let us resolve to take His Great Commission seriously this coming year.
During the baptismal rite there is a point where we light a small candle from the Paschal Candle and give it to the godparents for the child being baptized. The Paschal Candle is the candle from which all candles at the Easter Vigil are lit, thus lighting the church as Christ lights our world. The symbolism is that we are sending the newly baptized into the world carrying the light of Christ.
Let’s not let that light go out in our lives. Let’s take our own baptismal candle into the world and not hide it under the basket of accommodation with our culture. With enough light, we can overcome the darkness of secularism and return this day to its true meaning.
God love you, peace, and, of course, Merry Christmas.

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