Monsignor Harry J. Byrne, JCD * * * Comment/

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Location: 3103 Arlington Avenue,, Bronx, NY 10463, United States

December 23, 2010

"Fare l'atto di presenza"

Someone walks into a room; nothing noticeable occurs, only an empty chair seems to have become occupied. Someone else enters, says nothing, does nothing, but the atmosphere becomes charged; his or her presence is like a power. That is where the Italian phrase in our title has place. "An act of being present has been made!" That is what the Christmas creche trumpets. This is no commonmplace birth, however peasant the surroundings, however earthy the cow and the dog. A power figure has made an act of being present! His coming had been foretold by ancient bearded figures, wearing the tallit and teffelin.

Later, John the Baptist, at Bethabara, a fording place where the waters of the Jordan River trickled over ancient stones, called out to prepare for the word of the Lord to be proclaimed by this infant, later grown to manhood. The widespread diversity of humanity that would later accept the message and the mission of this Messiah was indicated by those who listened to John at this crossing point of the Jordan. For centuries, caravans coming down from Moab would mix with other traders and travelers. John would have been heard by Jews, some in rough clothing, others in the silk and suede of the rich, but also Arabs from Transjordan, Babylonians with rings in their noses, copper-colored Abyssinians, and black Sudanese. Think New York subways! On the ears of these peoples would fall the words and values of this new figure, Jesus.

And our creche scene features the song of the angels, appealing both to the simple and to the wise - the rustic shepherds from local fields and the three wisemen from the East, sophisticated and exotic. Both types in following centuries would be found among the listeners to Jesus, the processions of simple folk on the streets of El Salvador and of literary and artistic types, who found place in their art for this power figure, whose power had nothing to do with political, economic, or military might.

Medieval and Renaissance artists in their depictions and interpretations of the creche scene frequently noted another deeper, dramatic, and mysterious feature about this power person, who had made the act of being present to us, by including, quietly and almost unnoticed, the apple from the garden of Adam and Eve, and, off to the side, a thorn bush!

This Jesus of the creche did not saunter casually into sight; he performed an act of being present to us. In His company, we his listeners are challenged to dismiss any casual pose and to make our own positive act of being present to Him, to His values, and to His sacrifice.