As this is the month of December, I thought it would be fitting to write on the wonder and mystery of Christmas. These are my thoughts as a priest and Catholic. I do not ask every reader to agree with them but to accept the sincerity of my sentiments. Billions of babies have been born into this world in the past 2000 years. A few of them happened to be of royal blood and their birthdays are celebrated in their own countries while they are alive. But with their deaths they are usually forgotten and their names are merely mentioned in history books. Queen Victoria’s birthday is still celebrated in England - but will it be remembered five hundred years from now?
There is one Child, however, whose birthday has been celebrated not only in His own century but throughout the entire world for almost twenty centuries. Perhaps, because we have grown so used to Christmas – and its commercialization – we have ceased to wonder and ask ourselves “WHY?” What is the difference between this Child, who was born in a stable or a cave, and every other child who has been born since or will ever be born into thisi world?
A Backward Look
Christmas is the Birthday of God made Man. I think we need to be reminded of this tremendous fact, because it is so easy to miss the forest for the trees. We can forget the real meaning of Christmas because of all the distractions – the frills, the lights, the gifts and the parties. So perhaps a quick run through the ideology of the Incarnation – the taking Flesh of God – might help us to see Christmas as more than a worldly festival and a commercial occasion.
Who is Jesus Christ? What does the Church teach about Him? For a short period after His death, Resurrection and Ascension, Christians simply accepted the fact that He was God made Man. Then the intellectuals got going and began to ask themselves, “How could God become man?”
The Catholic Church and, as far as I know, most Christian churches, teaches that Jesus Christ, from the first moment of His conception was truly God and truly Man; the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, who ha d a Divine Nature from all eternity and, in time, took a human nature in the womb of the Virgin Mary and is therefore fully and completely God and fully and completely Man.
You might feel inclined to say, “Well, does it matter that much? Why not just let us enjoy Christmas and have fun without bothering us with a lot of theory? Does it make that much of a difference to our daily lives?” Well, if it doesn’t it should. You see, if the baby in the Crib was not both God and man, then the Man who died on the Cross 33 years later was not both God and Man. And you and I have not been redeemed. Christmas is not just a remembrance of an event that took place twenty centuries ago and is all over now except for the fun. St. Paul says that “In the fullness of time, God sent His Son, born of a woman to redeem us and make us His adopted sons.” We are still living in the fullness of time. We today are still being redeemed by the Blood of Christ. The angel said to Joseph “She – Mary – will give birth to a Child and you shall call His name, Jesus. For He will save His people from their sins.” In the Acts of the Apostles St. Peter says, “There is no other name under heaven by which we can be saved.”
Born to die
Christ was born into this world for no other reason than that He could die for us. But our salvation is not an automatic process. If we are to benefit by the salvation which Christ won for us, we must live in such a way that we are worthy of it. And that is the significance of the Life of Our Lord between the Crib and the Cross. It was not sufficient to open the Gates of Heaven. He had to show us the way to get there – “I and the way, the truth and the life.”
In His life we can find every value. Perhaps this Christmas we could dwell on one in particular – His detachment for the things of this world. St. Paul tells us that, although He was rich, He became poor for our sakes. And he really became poor. It was not a pretence. There were times when He has nowhere to lay His head. He was without the affluence upon which our society sets so much store. Christ could have come into this world a rich man, a man of power and worldly influence. But He didn’t. Surely there is a lesson for us in this. Western society had become so material-minded that we measure success in terms of power and money. The question is often asked, “How much is he worth?” And the answer is given in dollars! We are not worth what we have. We are worth what we are. And God is the judge of that worth.
The Gospel message
A sincere and powerful reading of the Gospels can turn our worldly values upside down. The Baby in the Manger has so much to tell us if we will but listen. It is said that when the Emperor Napoleon, one of the proudest men in history, was held prisoner by the British on the Island of St. Helena, he took to seriously reading the Gospels. When he has finished he is reported to have said, “Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Charlemagne and myself; we have all tried to found empires and our empires have crumbled into dust, because they were founded on force. One Man alone founded and empire on love. And today, nearly nineteen hundred years after Hid death there are millions of people who are ready to give their lives for His name.” Then he asked the rhetorical question “Can He be less then God?” If Jesus Christ is less than God, Christmas has no meaning.
Hillary Bellafonte sums it up in one verse of a song: “Long time ago in Bethlehem, so the Holy Bible say, Mary’s Boy Child, Jesus Christ, was born on Christmas Day. Trumpets sound and angels sing; listen to what they say, that man will live forever more because of Christmas Day.”