Thursday, December 24, 2015

Some Christmas Prayers

Prayer is central to the Christian life, as it is also for people from other faiths. It is their lifeline to God. The purpose of prayer is not so much to list our many needs (God already knows them, although he doesn't mind our mentioning them), but it is really focused on praising God and listening to him. It is not our will that ultimately matters, but God's will: "His will be done on earth as it is in heaven."

That is what the Christian prayers that I have selected do as well. Sweeping the centuries from St. Ephraim the Syrian until today, they are Christmas meditations dwelling on the significance of Christ's birth. For Christians the Incarnation is fundamental to their faith: God sent his only Son to dwell among us and to restore not only us but the entire world that he loves so much.

As a result of the Incarnation, the Christian Church throughout the centuries has confessed that Christ is both fully divine and fully human. Judaism and Islam deny this, but that difference ought not to be a barrier to Christians, Jews, and Muslims accepting each other. For that matter, people of every faith must accept what they have in common and not accent the differences as is all too prevalent today.

That acceptance is the focus of the last prayer which welcomes all refugees as brothers and sisters regardless of their religion. When we welcome them, we are welcoming Christ whose birth is celebrated at Christmas time and will be in perpetuity, as St. Ephraim writes.

The entire world must welcome strangers and not reject them as some people do, even those who profess to be Christians. I can think of no more appropriate way to celebrate Christmas this year than by welcoming refugees. Do you hear me, Donald Trump?

Again, I wish all of you a blessed Christmas, whether you celebrate it or not. Do not be distracted by the consumerism that detracts from the real meaning of Christmas. And, as you enjoy your Christmas dinner, don't forget to leave a place or two for the strangers in your midst. Welcome them with open arms!

Nativity Prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian

The feast day of your birth resembles you, O Lord 
because it brings joy to all humanity. 
Old people and infants alike enjoy your day. 
Your day is celebrated from generation to generation. 

Kings and emperors may pass away, 
And the festivals to commemorate them soon lapse. 
But your festival will be remembered until the end of time. 
Your day is a means and a pledge of peace. 

At Your birth heaven and earth were reconciled, 
Since you came from heaven to earth on that day 
You forgave our sins and wiped away our guilt. 

You gave us so many gifts on the day of your birth: 
A treasure chest of spiritual medicines for the sick; 
Spiritual light for the blind; 
The cup of salvation for the thirsty; 
The bread of life for the hungry. 

In the winter when trees are bare, 
You give us the most succulent spiritual fruit. 
In the frost when the earth is barren, 
You bring new hope to our souls. 
In December when seeds are hidden in the soil, 
The staff of life springs forth from the virgin womb. 

St. Ephraim the Syrian (AD 306-373)

Nativity Prayer of St. Augustine

Let the just rejoice,
for their justifier is born.
Let the sick and infirm rejoice,
For their saviour is born.
Let the captives rejoice,
For their Redeemer is born.
Let slaves rejoice,
for their Master is born.
Let free men rejoice,
For their Liberator is born.
Let All Christians rejoice,
For Jesus Christ is born.

St. Augustine of Hippo (AD 354-440)

Nativity Prayer of St. Bernard of Clairvaux

Let Your goodness Lord appear to us, that we
made in your image, conform ourselves to it.
In our own strength
we cannot imitate Your majesty, power, and wonder
nor is it fitting for us to try.
But Your mercy reaches from the heavens
through the clouds to the earth below.
You have come to us as a small child,
but you have brought us the greatest of all gifts,
the gift of eternal love
Caress us with Your tiny hands,
embrace us with Your tiny arms
and pierce our hearts with Your soft, sweet cries.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux (AD 1090-1153)

Prayer for those who seek refuge in our land

Sheltering God,

You were born in flight,

Your parents anxious and given no rest.

The manner of your birth calls us to
Open-heartedness and sensitivity to the strangers in our midst.
Help us not to flee your challenge.
The violence of the present time teaches us fear of the stranger,
Reluctant to reach out to those who are different.
Grace us this day as we seek
To see you in the faces of those uprooted,
Weary, as they seek refuge and peace. Amen.

Blessed are the wanderers and those adrift.
Blessed are the strangers at our door.
Blessed are the unfed, the homeless on the road.
Blessed is the child crying in pain.
Blessed is the mother working to provide for her children, left behind in her native country.
Blessed are those who welcome Christ to be born again when they welcome these ones.
Blessed are we who struggle to make a place in our hearts for all of our brothers and sisters. 

O God,
You welcome all your children,
And embrace the prodigals ones,
Help us open our hearts
And welcome all who come, searching
As our ancestors did,
For asylum and the promise of a new land, a new life.

Root out fear from our souls;
Help us form the words
‘Sister’ and ‘Brother’
As we greet those who seek refuge in our land.
Let us remember that,
With your grace,
There are enough loaves and fishes
To go around
If we come together
As your family.

Give us the courage
And the compassion
To respect the rights of all
In this country of abundance,
To embrace all in
The name of your love. 

(Uniya is a Jesuit social justice centre.)

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