Christmas Defined

Christmas Eve

What can you and I say about this time called Christmas, this Mass for the Christ child? Christmas is an event. It is a moment in time, which is evocative, calling forth a constellation of associations in our individual and corporate lives.

For many of us Christmas is family. It is the gathering of aunts and uncles and nephews and cousins and brothers and sisters, parents grandparents and in-laws. It is a meeting of the clan, of the tribe of those to whom we are connected as “family.” It is the celebration of our life, our connectedness, our identity. On the one hand it is a party. On the other hand it is family remembered, the presence still felt of a parent or sister or loved one who has died. The sweet remembrance of one who counted, who was (and still is) important to us, is a bittersweet reflection which adds dimension to the celebration of family, giving depth and substance to the Christmas family celebration. As long as there is family, there is always a sense of hope. When our own family is gone, we connect to the family of others and to the greater family of the community or the Church. Christmas is family and hope.

For some of us Christmas is food. Lots of food. Swedish pastries and Italian cannolies, Irish bread and Polish sausages. It is Bob Cratchit’s Christmas goose. It is my mother’s pot roast and my brother’s turkey. Christmas is the joyous celebration of abundance, almost more so than Thanksgiving. It is the feasting upon those things that are nourishing and good and the sharing of them. It is enjoying those things that feed the body, and in so doing feed the soul as well. For some of us it is a reminder of the “heavenly banquet.” But here on earth with my daughter-in-law’s pie, joyously delicious, Christmas is food and joy.

For most of us Christmas is giving and receiving. For my sister-in-law it is SHOPPING! She loves the hunt for the perfect sweater-marked down 50%, bought with a coupon for 25% off the sale price, the sweater dwarfs the gifts of the Magi. I love to get gifts. It makes me feel that I am noticed and count. It is a token of peace even where there has been estrangement. More so do I love to give. It is my way of communicating, of reaching through the barriers and defenses that surround all of us, even our spouses and children. A thoughtful, well-chosen gift says, “Peace be with you.” Christmas is giving and receiving. It is the hope of peace.

But how elemental are these things: family, food and giving! How real but ephemeral are their concomitant associations: hope, joy and peace! Yes, you and I celebrate family, food and giving at other times during the year (a birthday, a harvest, etc.) We also have moments for hope, joy and peace (a birth, a graduation, an armistice.) But these elemental things and associations cluster around Christmas. They are elemental in that they are part of creation and recreation, part of sin and redemption, part of the eternal process. At the same time, they are part of a mysterious, cosmic life-giving force that personally touches you and me deeply and yet comes from far beyond the heavens. You and I experience the hope of family, the joy of nourishment and the peace that comes through giving and receiving because there is deep within us not only reason but also imagination. Our aesthetic sense, our response to beauty, to the miracle of birth, the wellspring of joy or the breath of peace is because our creator has given us the capacity to respond to both reason and revelation.

Hence, it is that you and I respond, perhaps initially, to family and food and gift giving, to hope and joy and peace in earthly things, but at the same time we cannot help but respond to the miracle of Christmas. How else could God touch the desires for family and food and gift giving, for hope and joy and peace but by the birth of a baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger? Here is God Himself reaching beyond the stars, giving the gift of Himself in an act that is almost impossible to reject � the birth of a child. Here is the response to the vision of the prophet, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulders, and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, the everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” (1)

Christmas is the simple story of a particular family, nourishing and giving. It is the simple story of hope and joy and peace. You know it. “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar August, that all the world should be taxed. And Joseph also went from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; because he was of the house and lineage of David�with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that while they were there . . . she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.” (2)

But they were not alone. Imagination, observation and reason, kissed one another as others came to the stable. “There were shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them and they were sore afraid. And the angel said to unto them, ‘Fear not: for behold — I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people: For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is, Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign unto you: Ye shall find a the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’” (3) Following the star, the shepherds, and later the wise men, entered into a moment in time in which the intention of God brought eternal light which forever overcomes the darkness of the cosmos and of the human soul.

Christmas is the exploding of God Himself from the time of creation to the present. It is the incarnation of God�s will and intelligence. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father) full of grace and truth.” (4)

Tonight, Christmas is the festival of light, the Mass for Christ. It is the Eucharist for the unbelievable, beyond all hope and dreams, gift of God Himself, in the form of a baby, of the infant Jesus. Like men and women since that night 2,000 years ago, our hearts leap in response to this divine/human act. “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace good will toward men.’” (5)

Come to the Christmas Eucharist. Rejoice and sing. You and I are blessed to receive the gift of Christmas: the family of Christ, the food of the bread and wine, the giving and receiving of love. Here for a moment in time, light overcomes darkness and you and I joyfully embrace not only one another but also hope and the promise of peace. Come. Let us adore Him. Amen -Fr. Gage. 12/24/05, Saturday.

1) Isaiah 9:6
2) Luke 2:1-7
3) Luke 2:8-12
4) John 1:1-5,14
5) Luke 2:14
King James Version