Merry Christmas! Feliz Navidad! Joyeux Noel! Buon Natale! Frohe Weihnachten!
During the holidays, there are many family customs: singing carols, seeing the Nutcracker or listening to the Messiah, visiting family and friends, enjoying meals together.
And as I focus on the true meaning of Christmas, “God with us,”I think of children and the clever things they say.
For example, a mom was preparing breakfast pancakes, and her two kids – ages three and five -- began to argue about who would get the first pancake.
Mom saw an opportunity to weave Jesus into a lesson for her youngsters. “If Jesus were here,” she noted, “he would say, ‘Let my brother have the first pancake.’ “
The five-year-old immediately turned to his three-year-old brother and said, “OK, you be Jesus!”
The moral of the story: There’s more than one way to get what you want!
Every year we relive the wonderful Christmas story in the liturgy.
The story tells us of a baby in a feeding trough. Of a mother holding her child in her arms, as her husband Joseph stays near. Of angels singing; and shepherds running over the hillside, to tell the child they love him.
The Gospel according to John summed up this magnificent story in a single line:The Word became flesh.
That line takes us in our imaginations to the beginning of the human family in Genesis: man and woman walked with God, had friendship with God and one another. Somehow they lost that friendship, they fell from grace. Genesis describes very simply yet very graphically that fall: they hid from God; one blamed the other; and even the earthly elements worked against them.
But God did not leave us to our worse selves. Remember the words of the prophet Isaiah: Can a mother forget her child? And even if she should, I will never forget you. And so continued the biblical story of salvation.
In the midst of all of ancient Israel’s triumphs and tragedies, fortunes and misfortunes, fidelities and infidelities to the covenant, God never reneged on his promises. And so the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
The Word of God for the Christmas liturgies is like a prism, through which is refracted the multiple facets of this great mystery of the Incarnation, God become one of us.
Isaiah proclaims glad tidings: the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.
Paul writes that the grace of God appeared in Jesus Christ who made us “heirs” to the promise of eternal life.
In the Gospel according to Luke, the Virgin Mary gave birth to her son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger. The Gospel of John sums up the meaning of Christmas: the Word became flesh. That is God’s greatest gift to us.
As I was looking for additional holiday inspiration, I came across a wonderful quote that captures the spirit of Christmas and wraps it all up in a gift we can keep giving throughout the year.
The author points out that while “gadgets, games and trips are all wonderful presents to give, there are other gifts that are more precious to those we love. They cost nothing, but their effects can last a lifetime.”
The first gift is the gift of time. In this busy world, we often don't take the time to give of ourselves to others. A phone call to a friend in need. A visit to an ailing or aging relative. A little more time for parents, children and spouses. This is giving ourselves to others for enjoyment, education and love.
The second is the gift of good example. Demonstrating that we respect others, that we are compassionate, that we're a friend, that we're fair and honest, that we're men and women of integrity is the gift of example for others, especially the young.
The third is the gift of seeing the best in people. Let people know that you see them for their positive qualities - and, sure enough, it will bring out the best in them.
These gifts cost nothing but their effects can last a lifetime.
Now back to Christmas and the phrase that magnificently sums it up:The Word became flesh.
That reality changed our destiny. Christmas means not simply God in Bethlehem of Judea centuries ago, but God within us. We carry within ourselves Emmanuel, God with us. How? Initially by virtue of the life-giving waters of baptism. By living a life of virtue.
We gather to proclaim the awesome Word of God, to celebrate the presence of the living Christ, body and blood, soul and divinity, in this liturgy. For we are by grace what Jesus Christ is by nature: sons and daughters of God our Father, heirs to the kingdom of God.
And that great truth of our faith, God within us, ought to challenge us always to be a good finder: someone who looks for the good in themselves, in other people and in every situation.
Look for the good in yourself! Remember that magnificent hymn of the Virgin Mary: My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior. Because the mighty one has done great things for me.
Mary rejoiced in the gifts God gave her, and so too should we rejoice in the gifts God has given us.
Second, look for the good in other people. Someone wrote that people in many ways are like wild flowers. If you have ever studied a wildflower carefully, you’ll see the delicate veins; the fragile petals; the beautiful blossom. If you turn the flower to the sunlight, you discover its special symmetry. The wildflower has a beauty all its own. And so to do people.
And finally look for good in all situations of life. When one door closes, another door inevitably opens if we pay close enough attention.
And who is the ultimate good-finder. God so loved us that he became one of us.
Yes, Jesus had a unique relationship. He was one with God. He is a God-man. A healer, a teacher, a peacemaker.
Think of the people in the Gospels that Jesus met: the blind, the leper, the lame, the sinner, the forgotten. And Jesus found goodness in all of them where many didn’t.
The promised Messiah has come, He is in our midst sacramentally and mystically, and He will come again in glory and power at the end-time.
In the meantime, here is our Christmas challenge:
What better season for wrongs to be righted;
and friends to be reunited;
for new dreams to start….
What better season for mending and healing,
for saying and feeling what’s in the heart.
What better season for love to keep glowing,
for hope to start growing,
for troubles to cease.
What better season for sharing and giving,
for once again living in joy and in peace!