Christmas is a time of home-coming for children who are away at boarding school or living in a college hostel. Grown-up children who are living elsewhere come home too to celebrate this family feast. What does celebrating mean? Making a crib, going for mid-night Mass, singing carols and giving everyone a warm hug on Jesus' birthday, are part of it. Christmas sweets, presents, a festive meal, decorating the home, new clothes may also be part of it. Children wish that Christmas would come more often than once a year. And why not? Is Christmas a day or a way of rejoicing that we have a Saviour who is our God-with-us, our Emmanuel, the whole year round ?
Many years ago I met a large family who were bankrupt. Creditors had taken away their furniture and assets and they were left with just the bare necessities. The parents were sad to disappoint their children. The children felt rather sorry for themselves. The Mother of the family pulled out a paper crib that came in a Christmas card. She gathered the family around her and read the story of the first Christmas from Lk 2:1-20. As they listened, she prayed that they would experience the peace and joy that the shepherds received. They sang familiar carols and reached out to hug each other. She then asked each one to share the blessings God had given them. Love, togetherness, a sense of belonging, faith in Jesus, trust in his providence, an awareness of others who were poorer than they were, comfort and consolation, were some of the gifts they shared. All of a sudden Bethlehem became real for them. Looking back, they told me that it was the best Christmas they ever experienced.
In many cities and countries Christmas has become a secular feast. Santa Claus has taken the place of Jesus. Shops have sales to sell people a wide variety of gifts. The Christmas season is a time for over eating, drinking, revelry, noise, fake intimacy at office parties and Christmas dances that leave some people depressed, ashamed, guilty or sick and fatigued when the celebrations are over. The reason why we celebrate Jesus' birthday is forgotten.
So we have some options, when celebrating Christmas this year. Will it be reduced to a day or will it be a way of entering into one another's world to share Jesus and the peace, love, joy he brings through us? We can be his hands and voice not merely to those who return gifts with gifts and wishes with wishes. We can reach out to those who cannot repay us.
Will Christmas be a season for shopping and merry-making or a reason for sharing Jesus presence with those who need him most. Instead of sending cards, exchanging gifts and visiting family and friends, who will repay us, how about making a list of those Jesus would choose were he in our place? Prostitutes, tax collectors, drunkards, public sinners, the poor and unwashed shepherds, the sick and the crippled, the forgotten and the weary of soul may still be waiting for their saviour. He has no other voice but ours. He has no other hands but ours. Will we lend Jesus our hands to touch, to heal, to embrace, to bless, to share and to serve him in those in need, this Christmas? Will we lend him our voice to speak words of life, to be the voice for the voiceless, this Christmas? If we do, perhaps we will also receive the grace to continue throughout 2005 to bring joy to the world.
The Christmas story as told in the readings at Mass in this Christmas cycle is indeed touching. May that Word once again become flesh and dwell in us and bear fruit in our lives. May the words of the holy book become living Gospels in all that hear with faith and ponder these words in their hearts. God's Spirit who formed Jesus in the womb of Mary will allow the Word to dwell and bear fruit in our lives too.
The Christmas carols are full of beautiful words that need to be translated into our daily lives. We need silence in our hearts to hear Jesus tell us how precious we are to Abba father. We need to rejoice with all the "Faithful" as we behold Jesus again in the stables of our world and reach out to touch him and be touched in return by the Lord and Giver of life. Are there people who are looking for the joy and peace that Jesus brings in a way the world cannot give? In sharing it we will be blessed with a hundredfold. The Giver is never stingy in rewarding.
Let us celebrate Christmas as a family of persons who care for each other, who bear each other's burdens and who share Jesus with each other in loving service. Let us reach out in love to those who are lonely or sad and bring the joy of Jesus to them.Let us reconcile those who are divided and separated. Let us bring the forgiveness of Jesus to those who have hurt or snubbed us. Let us make this Christmas special.
The beautiful prayer "Make me a channel of your peace" is attributed to St Francis of Assisi. He also gave us our first Christmas crib. It is an appropriate prayer for the family to reflect on as a preparation for Christmas. May the Spirit of God show us how to put it into practice. Then it will truly be a blessed Christmas that will carry over into the New Year.