A number of years ago I was teaching at a school in Fukuoka. We had a Christmas assembly for the whole school and invited a young priest to address the students with a Christmas message. He brought along with him the Christmas issue of 17 local magazines. He pointed out that they all featured articles and advertisements for Christmas presents, Christmas shows, dinners, cakes, and hotels—but not one church service. Where is the Christ of Christmas? In shopping malls, on radio and TV we hear Jingle Bells, White Christmas, and Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer. And the main Christmas character is Santa Claus! What has happened to the Christ of Christmas? Christmas has been hijacked! So let’s try to recapture Christmas from its hijackers. We can do this by reminding ourselves of what Christmas really is: the birthday of Christ.
One precious memory I have of a brief trip I made to the Holy Land 40 years ago is when I visited the large basilica at Nazareth and saw the words engraved on the front of the altar: Verbum caro HIC factum est (The Word became man HERE). The basilica at Nazareth is a large ferroconcrete structure erected over the site of what is supposed to have been the house of Jesus’ mother Mary. One may well doubt whether that was the actual spot of her house, but Mary lived somewhere in the town known as Jesus’ hometown. So it is true that somewhere that can be called HERE Jesus became one of us in this world.
Our celebration of Christmas reminds us of this fact. There was a long period of preparation throughout the history of Israel. Why Israel? And why at that particular time? A beginning had to be SOMEWHERE and at SOME TIME, even though the world was not really ready, nor ever would be. That is the meaning of the words in today’s gospel: there was no room at the inn. One speaker I heard pointed out that if Christ were to be born in one of our big cities today, it might be in a dark corner of some public park surrounded by the cold and lonely cardboard huts of homeless people living on the margins of society.
Christmas comes at a good time of year
- when it’s dark and we want light
- when it’s cold and we want warmth
- when the dying year heals old wounds
- and the coming year invites us to hope for something better.
Jesus came into our darkness to bring us light. He came not to take away the suffering of the world but to share our suffering. By refusing to hate the people who condemned him as a criminal, he undid the power of sin. He held man and God together. He forgave his executioners, saying “Father, forgive them,” while committing himself and all of us into God’s hands: “Father, into your hands I surrender myself.”
When he was born into the world, he was a speechless, helpless infant. He had to learn to say “Father” and eventually taught us to say it with the realization that God is our Father and we are all brothers and sisters. He came because he wanted to live with us and be close to us, so that we would be close to one another. Are we ready to open the door to the one who knocks, or is there no room in the inn? Who is the person knocking at the door? Is it the hungry person, and do we offer something to eat? Is it the lonely or the outcast, and do we offer comfort and encouragement? Is it the sick and we visit them? Is it that person we don’t want to forgive? Is it that person we want to insult or defeat in some way? Do we wish for peace in the world while waging little private wars all around us?
So let’s recapture Christmas from its hijackers by remembering whose birthday it really is. I don’t know who started making a fortune by selling cakes for Christmas. But Christmas is basically a birthday, and birthdays call for cakes. We can consider the cake we eat as a piece of Jesus’ birthday cake. Also, we exchange presents at Christmas, but let’s remember that “presents” are intended to make ourselves “present” to one another with loving concern. And let’s add that the great model for presents is the gift that God give us in Jesus, whom we invite here today to replace Santa Claus and put Christmas back on track.
Let’s all join together to give thanks for the blessings of the past year and to hope for a brighter year ahead. I pray you and your family and friends will receive the best of Christmas blessings and that these will carry you into the new year ahead.
Robert Chiesa, SJ