Merry Christmas

A Pilgrim’s Notes: “Merry Christmas” — What Does It Mean?

Fausto Gomez, OP

May you have a Merry Christmas! What does “Merry Christmas” mean? As we prepare to celebrate this great solemnity, let me share a few notes on its various and complementary meanings.
Christmas is Christ. There cannot be a true Christmas without Christ: without Christ, Christmas is merely three meaningless letters – “m”, “a”, “s”. Christ is the center of Christmas: the Child Jesus in a manger. It is truly awesome to realize that, as St John writes, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us… Of his fullness we have all received.” Merry Christmas implies a happy encounter with the Child Jesus in the crib! “If you wish to see the most beautiful thing in the world,” St John de Avila tells us, “ask the Lord to give you the eyes to see a young maiden with her child in her arms in the town of Bethlehem.”

Christmas is love of God. “God so loved the world,” St. John’s marvelous words again, “that He gave his only begotten Son.” How incredible: “The Son of God is born in eternity without mother, in time without father, and becomes our brother” (John Tauler). We respond by adoring the Child Jesus. Adoration may be our attitude through the Christmas season. It was the attitude of Mary and Joseph, of the shepherds, and of the Three Kings. Mary and Joseph kept everything in their hearts in an attitude of contemplative prayer; the shepherds knelt before the Child in the crib, and the Three Kings offered their gifts as a sign of worship. “O come, let us adore him.”

Christmas is love of neighbor. Love of Christ in the manger entails love of all neighbors, children of God and our brothers and sisters. “In this,” Jesus says, “they will know that you are my disciples, that you love one another.” True Christian love is not selective but unconditionally universal: no one is excluded, not even the enemies.

Christmas is compassionate love. “I feel compassion for the crowd,” Jesus says. Charity is universal love, merciful love for all, in particular the poor and needy, the “little ones” of Jesus. Thus, Christmas is feeling compassion for those in need and doing something to help them. It necessarily implies sharing something with the poor around us, accompanying our sick and imprisoned brothers and sisters. Jesus keeps telling you and me: “What you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, you do it to me.”

Christmas is joyful love. “This is the day our Savior was born: what a joy for us! This is no season for sadness, this, the birthday of Life, the Life which annihilates the fear of death, and engenders joy, promising as it does, immortality” (St. Leo the Great). Yes, “Christmas is joy, the joy of Life, the joy of the Gospel of Christ” (Pope Francis). Indeed, “Joy to the world, joy to you and me!”

Christmas is peaceful love. The angels sang: “Glory to God in the highest and peace to men whom God loves.” Peace, like joy and compassion, is a consequence of love. As believers in Christ, the Prince of Peace, we are asked to be peacemakers in our families, in our communities, in the world. To be peacemakers, we have to be at peace within ourselves and with God, with all neighbors and with creation, which is “our common home.”

Christmas is grateful love. Zechariah is grateful to the Lord for giving him his son John the Baptist: “Blessed be the Lord the God of Israel” (Lk 1:68). Mary, the Virgin-Mother is grateful for the marvelous things God has done to her: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord” (Lk 1:46). We are grateful above all to God for giving us Jesus, his only Son and the Son of Mary. We also give thanks to so many people around us! As we wish “Merry Christmas” to our family, friends, and companions we thank them for their love, their help, for being there when we needed them, for travelling with us on the journey of life. Indeed, “gracias a la vida,” thanks to life that has given us so much!

The birth of Jesus is a magnificent event that reminds us of our Baptism, of our birth as Christians. Some years ago, I received a Christmas card with this lovely message: One day Christ was born for you, and it was Christmas. / Another day, you were born for Christ, and it was your Baptism. / When you remember the joy of Christmas / do not forget the joy of your Baptism.”

The Birth of Jesus connects closely with the Eucharist: “Mary was the first tabernacle who carried Christ within her and gave birth to the One who would say, ‘I am the living bread come down from heaven’” (Fulton Sheen).

Through Advent, as we prepare to receive Jesus in our home, we remember that when our Lord was born of the Virgin Mary, there was no room for him in the inn at Bethlehem. He is coming again at Christmas 2015. There is a lovely story of a Children’s Nativity Play (from Margaret Silf). After many rehearsals the great day of presenting the play before the proud parents of the children and parishioners came. On stage: angels, shepherds, and Mary, Joseph and the innkeeper. Mary and Joseph knock at the door of the inn and ask: “Please, can we have a room for the night?” The innkeeper answers: “Sorry, there is no room in the inn.” After saying that, however, the little innkeeper had second thoughts of his own and added something else: “Don’t go away, you can have my room.”

I ask: “Will Jesus have my room the coming Christmas? Will He have yours?” There will be no room for Baby Jesus this Christmas in the hearts of those who are selfish, proud or insensitive to the needs of others. We are all invited to approach the Sacrament of Penance and thus prepare a pure heart for the birth of the Child in the manger.

My dear co-pilgrims, I wish you Merry Christmas that is a Blessed Christmas. May the Child Jesus be born in our hearts in a deeper way, and may those around us notice it by the way we treat them with kindness and compassion.

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