My wife and I bought our house, a small Cape, when we got married. Thirty years later, we are still in our “starter” house because it became home as we fixed it up, started our journey of life as a couple, raised our daughters, and now sit here in the sun room we added years ago, watching the snow gently blanket the neighborhood just one week before Christmas. Our family has grown up celebrating and enjoying each of the holidays the calendar brings, but I think the vote would be a unanimous one that the Christmas season is our favorite. We were reminiscing about an overnight trip we took years ago with the girls to Portsmouth, New Hampshire during a snow storm to visit the living history village of Strawberry Banke during the Christmas season. As our small car slipped and slid its way up Route 95, we were all questioning our sanity, but once we finally reached our destination and watched the saucer-like snowflakes (picture the ones from Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer or the movie Elf) gently fall outside the restaurant we were now cozied up in, it was more than worth the journey. It felt like Christmas and we were together to enjoy it.
Christmas has certainly evolved into a huge commercial holiday, celebrated by believers and non-believers alike. A friend of mine, who was an observing Jew and did not believe in Christ or Christianity, was married to a Catholic woman. He told me that once he found out that Christmas was not a religious holiday, he really got into the season, buying a tree, decorating his house with lights and buying presents for everyone he knew. He loved the joy of Christmas – even if it was from a secular perspective.
Joy, enchantment, fun, generosity, wonder, anticipation, get-togethers with family and friends are all wonderful elements of Christmas, especially as the days of the season grow shorter and colder, but we can also make things less when we remove the full truth and meaning within them. True friendship becomes something less when it is becomes conditional. Marriage becomes something less when we remove the sense of a true commitment, through good times and bad. Sex becomes something less when we remove its full meaning and purpose and separate it from a life-long commitment of love that is ready to be open to both the bonding and life-giving nature of that sacred intimate becoming one together. Christmas too can become something less when we do not fully recognize what is it all about. You have probably seen the changeable business signs in front of real estate companies or other business with the message, “The reason for the season.” As we enjoy the fun of Christmas parties, Yankee Swaps, ugly sweaters, lit up houses in the neighborhood, or just sitting with a warm drink in a room lit only by the fire or the Christmas tree, have we lost the wonder and sense of what this birthday is all about?
I read once that the incarnation, God actually taking on flesh in the birth of Christ, changed everything. Many of us know in the abstract that God loves us unconditionally, with limitless mercy, and without fail, but in Jesus as both human and divine, we can know and experience this in a more deeply in a human way. We are people of senses – sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch – and Jesus showed us the love of God in a way that used all of our senses and moves us deeply in our hearts. Mary was the new Eve, trusting and saying yes to God’s overwhelming request to become the mother of Christ. Jesus was the new Adam, who came humbly to serve, to teach and show us God’s love, and to take on the sins of the world, reconciling us in a new Covenant with God. When God created the universe, he said, “Let us make man in our image.” Jesus reveals to us things about God's nature that we could never have known - that there are three persons, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in one God that can only be understood in relationship to each other as a community of love. If we are made in the image of God, then that tells us something about the true nature of ourselves. In Jesus, we can finally see who we truly are, sons and daughters of a Father that has reckless love for us. He gives us the ultimate example of love that lets us know that we can only find and experience our true selves in self-gift to others and in unconditional relationship to others.
While Christmas celebrates the human birth of Christ, who has always divinely existed, it would be fitting to be awed by the fully meaning of this holy night. No matter how many times we have dismissively turned our backs on God, he has never given up on us. His mercy and love for us is so great, that he gave his only Son to us, experiencing humility, abandonment, ridicule, and even death on the Cross to atone for an infinite injustice to God that man alone could not. Jesus showed us the path to our salvation, to true love and joy, and to knowing our true selves through self-sacrificing love to others. It is a night that should make us “fall on our knees," and, "hear the angel's voices.” As Linus, so appropriately reminds us each year, “And the angel said unto them, 'Fear not! For, behold, I bring you tidings o great joy, which shall be to all my people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ, the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.' 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, and good will toward men. That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”
I hope that this Christmas is a time to be with family and friends, to be generous in love to others, and to be awed by how much we are loved by God.