Living the Truth in Love: The Music and Art of Christmas

During the Christmas season we hear a great deal of music from popular Christmas songs to beautiful Christmas hymns and moving classical pieces such as Handel’s Messiah. The sounds of Christmas many times move us to happy memories as well as emotional responses, such as the tears that sometimes accompany hearing Silent Night. Music has the ability to touch our hearts and souls and to bring us out of ourselves and sometimes into the presence of God. A few weeks ago, at the conclusion of November, Pope Francis met with church choirs from around the world and reflected that music has the ability to make a deep impression on moments in people's lives which mark their existence. He expressed that music witnesses "to the profoundness of the Word of God that touches the hearts of people." He reflected that sacred music points to the beauty of paradise.

With music, the Christmas season is also filled with an abundant balance of visual beauty. The decorations of light, the beauty of Christmas cards and the carefully decorated trees and packages all attest to a wonder that is present during the season. As we gaze upon this beauty, we are moved to gaze upon the beauty of God Himself. Speaking to artists in February of this year, Pope Francis expressed how art has the innate ability to reveal the beauty of being loved by God. Visual works of art, like music, have the ability to evoke an emotional response in our hearts and, in the words of Pope Francis, move us beyond ourselves into the very heart of God.

As we celebrate Christmas, we are indeed touched by the music of paradise as God becomes one of us in the flesh and lives in our hearts and souls. The song of Christmas is the song of the angels in Bethlehem, "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests." Those words which filled the silent night of the first Christmas are the song that we sing at Christmas as we realize the true meaning of God dwelling among us and in us as He is born of the Virgin Mary at Bethlehem. They are the songs we need to sing every day all during the year.

As we celebrate Christmas, we are equally touched by the brilliant beauty of the heart of God as the star of Bethlehem lights the darkness of the first Christmas and reveals the humble scene of the manger where Christ was born. This light moved the Magi to travel to Bethlehem to adore the splendor of the newborn King and to present beautiful gifts to Him. That scene is filled with the light of Christ which should enlighten us at Christmas and every day of our lives.

As difficult as it sometimes may be to comprehend, God's favor rests upon us. God created us in His image and in His likeness and bestowed upon us the dignity of His very life. God never turns against us even when we turn against Him. He invites us into a relationship with Him which is the core of what our lives are all about and the key to finding joy in life. God's favor rests so much upon us that He became one of us, taking to Himself all that we experience in life as He was born as a helpless infant on Christmas. This is the wonder of Christmas.

God's favor rests upon us as the light illuminates not only the birth of His Son but the birth of each and every one of us. We possess a beauty which comes from God and can only be understood in His light. Our world too often makes the mistake of believing that progress in technology is the way to understand the purpose of life. It is only the beauty of our dignity, as made in the image and likeness of God, that enables us to understand the meaning of life. God became one of us and is with us at all times in order that we might be filled with the light of life. This is the wonder of Christmas.

The scenes from the Gospels of Christmas reveal to us the music and art of the Christmas scene but perhaps from different perspectives, all expressing the same reality. The Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke have the perspective of looking at the beauty of the scene from below and raising our minds and hearts to God. We see the figures of Mary and Joseph with the Christ child. We see the Angels and shepherds as well as the Magi making their visit. We see the star which lights the darkness and we hear the song of the angels proclaiming glory to God. Matthew and Luke look from the human perspective.   

The Gospel of St. John views the birth of Christ, not from the earth, but from heaven. It seems to look downward giving it the beauty of music and art from God Himself. Gazing from the divine perspective, John speaks of the light that shines in the darkness which cannot be overcome by it. He speaks of the Word, who was God, who lives forever and became flesh. As the Word, the Son of God, becomes flesh, John tells us that we see His glory, the glory of the Father's only Son, full of grace and truth. This is the glory of which the angels sang at Bethlehem. The music and art are present in the Gospel of John just as they are at the Christmas scenes in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.  John also reminds us that the Word came to what was His own, but His own did not accept Him. St. Luke reminds us of this reality as Mary and Joseph have to leave their home and go to Bethlehem only to find no room for lodging. However, this rejection of which the evangelists remind us refers more deeply to the ultimate rejection of Christ as He will give His life upon the Cross.

It is the birth of God as a child and the crucifixion of Christ which are before us on Christmas as God's favor resting upon us in a manner we will never fully comprehend. Our lives have a purpose, dignity and a value because we are loved by God so much that He became one of us and died for us in order that we might have life. It is only seeing this beauty and hearing this music which give us joy in life. Our world needs to hear this message, as we ourselves do as well, if we are to find the true peace which Christ came to give.

Jesus tells His disciples what He also says to us. We have eyes, but many times do not see. We have ears, but many times do not hear. The beauty of God revealed at Christmas is before us in His love each and every day. The music of Christmas surrounds us each and every day. The light of Christ shines before us every moment.  It is only the eye and ear of faith which can see that beauty and hear that music. The truth is beauty, and this truth is before us in the manger as it is in the Cross on Calvary.

Let us open our ears to the music of Christmas so well expressed by the angels song, “Glory to God in the highest and peace to those on whom His favor rests." May the music of Christmas enable us to hear the loving words of our Lord especially as expressed as a helpless baby in Bethlehem. Let us open our eyes to the beauty of Christmas so brilliantly seen in the light of the star of Bethlehem over the scene of the manger. That beauty is the Word who became flesh and dwells among us and is with us at this very moment. May we know the joy of Christmas every day as we open our eyes and ears to the Lord present in so much music and art before us.

A Blessed Christmas to you and your families! May you always know the joy of the Word made flesh!!

Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
December 21, 2018