Christmas comes year after year and there is a danger that one may be satisfied with the decorations, cards, giving/receiving gifts, new dress, etc. One may easily forget that we are celebrating a great mystery of God’s infinite love for us humans. We may fail to stop and wonder at the great mystery of God becoming human, becomes like one of us. We may fail to appreciate the great mystery of God becoming a child in the womb of a woman, remains in her womb for 9 months and is born in utter poverty, amid animals as his parents did not find a proper place for the mother to deliver her child. By this unique event God is telling us to what an extent love can go in identifying oneself with the beloved, in this case with us humans. God has always wanted to be with God’s children, we see that already in the garden where God walks with Adam and Eve. God liberates the people when they have become slaves in Egypt; God leads them to the Promised Land accompanying them during day and night as cloud and fire. God makes a covenant with God’s people to be their God; but the people disobey and disown their God. But God does not abandon God’s people, but through the prophets reaches out to them. That desire to be with God’s people results finally in God becoming one with us as a human being, vulnerable like us in every way.
We can become indifferent to this great love of God, take it for granted and fail to respond to this offer of infinite love and remain satisfied with the externals like decorations, etc. We need to allow ourselves to be touched by this great mystery; we need to stop and wonder at this great marvel of love. The question we need to ask ourselves is: can my heart rediscover what Christmas means?
God comes in our midst as a poor child, unprotected from the cold and other inclemencies of the weather. This poor child tells where God is to be found. We are used to look for God in great churches and temples, in the so called ‘holy’ places, but this child tells us that God is found in caring for any needy person.
Christmas tells us to choose love; love is not liking or being attached to someone, but to be for and with every person irrespective of the qualities, defects, the group or the religion the person belongs to. This would mean understanding the person as she understands herself when she does something. This means not judging the person, for when I judge I see what the other does from my point of view and not from that person’s point of view. This means to forgive the other which is the same as understanding her from her point of view. To love is to be compassionate to the other, to be sensitive to the other, and to do for the other what one wants to do and therefore not expecting anything in return. To love is always to give primacy to the other person’s point of view. Jesus shows us what love is: he loved everyone, even those he opposed, like the Pharisees; he loved the poor, sinners, tax collectors, prostitutes, whom the world rejected as unworthy of love.
Christmas asks us to be grace to one another. God reaches out to us in and through every person; hence we have to become God’s grace to one another. Everything human, like conceiving a child, pregnancy, giving birth to a child, caring for a child all these have become channels of God, everything has been sanctified. We enable others to be more loving, more forgiving, through our love and forgiveness; that is being grace to one another.
Christmas invites us to be peace makers, to create peace; create peace in our families, homes, communities. Jesus would say later in his public ministry time that “Blessed are the peace makers, for they shall be children of God”; and Jesus gives peace, not as the world gives it. Peace is a prerequisite for all kinds of human progress. With peace we progress; without peace we face ruin. There are many forms of division among humans, but it is our privilege to create peace among people so that all can live in harmony and progress together.
Christmas gives hope. Christmas inspires us to share what we have with those who have nothing; that gives hope to many. We live in a world of conflicts that can lead people to despair; in that world of despair, those who follow Jesus can bring hope to people, enabling them to look ahead with hope; hope is not just optimism, but it is based on God’s promise to God’s children. When we share what we have with those who have nothing, we bring hope to people. Christmas is a call to bring hope to many who live in desperate situations. Mother Teresa often said that people suffer more from loneliness than hunger; to enable them to feel that they are not alone, to keep company with those people is to bring hope to them.
There is always the danger of Christmas becoming worldly, about buying and giving gifts, decorations, etc. Jesus can easily be missed; we can miss out on contemplation.
The shepherds who were privileged to visit the Lord spread the news all around. They had something marvelous to communicate to other people. The Christmas celebration should become for us an occasion to spread the news about Jesus to all, as Pope Francis reminds us in his Evangelii Gaudium. We ought to develop the spirit of wonder at what has happened at Christmas, ponder on its meaning and glorify and praise God for what God has done for us humans and like the shepherds spread the news about Jesus to all who have not heard about him till now.
Jesus who is the Truth, Life and the Way lies in the manger as a helpless child, “wrapped in swaddling clothes”, as his parents could not afford anything better. This certainly leads us to wonder at God’s mysterious ways in reaching out to us. Everyone who has heard this news is authorized to communicate it to others. All the acts of God are legitimate ground for amazement; but the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem is a cause for great amazement and wonder. The infinite clothed in human flesh – that is truly amazing. We cannot understand this, but we can and must wonder, marvel at this expression of God’s love. Crashaw wrote of this wonder:
Welcome all wonder in one sight
Eternity shut in span,
Summer in winter, day in night,
Heaven in earth, and God in man.
Great little one,
Whose all embracing birth
Lifts earth to heaven, stoops heaven to earth (Crashaw, Richard: "A Hymn to the Nativity).
Celebrating Christmas can also take the form of pondering it, for Mary "treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart" (Lk 2.19). Pondering is work. It is not just brooding. It is an attempt to take what you know and then by an exercise of the mind to build upon it.
This is an event of great joy. The angel said, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy..." (Lk 2.10). Great joy will need to be shared; hence this feast invites us to reach out to the poor, share something with them, so that they too can have some experience of God’s goodness and thank God.
(About the author: Fr Joseph Mattam,SJ, a Jesuit from Gujarat, professor of theology, author of seven books and editor of 11 books.")