by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
Recently, I had the pleasure of celebrating Mass and enjoying dinner at my residence with some of the parents whose children are recipients of Catholic Education Foundation scholarships.
One of the parents shared that she was reading a Christmas children’s book to her son. The story was all about presents and shopping. About halfway through, he turned to his mother and observed: “They do not know what Christmas is really about. They do not know it is about Jesus!” Out of the mouths of babes!
If our focus for Christmas was a meticulously decorated house or the perfect gift selection for everyone on our list or — even worse — getting the presents that we wanted, then the joy of the season is not going to be great and certainly not enduring. If we realize what Christmas is truly about — Jesus — then we have the opportunity to experience a joy that has filled and sustained the hearts of Christians for 2,000 years.
Recently, I heard Cardinal Timothy Dolan on EWTN recalling a Scripture scholar being asked the question: What is the most shocking sentence in the Bible? Without batting an eye, the biblical expert said: “She (Mary) wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”
What was striking to this scholar was not that there was no place for Jesus at the inn, but rather that the Son of God was an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes. Why? Because this meant that God wore diapers. God chose to enter into our vulnerability and poverty to rescue us from the mess created by our sin.
Our familiarity with the Christmas narrative can dull us to its full beauty and power. The God, who created the entire universe — black holes, the sun, moon, stars, planets and the rich diversity of life on earth — decided to become a baby.
Christianity is not about self-perfection. It is not about discipline and self-mastery. Our Catholic faith is about an encounter with an incredibly forgiving God and being transformed by his merciful love. The response by God to our sinfulness is the birth of a child into a poor peasant family. This tiny, helpless child possessed the ability to change the course of history and our eternal destiny.
What’s more, God, the Creator and Lord of everything, chose to immerse himself in our humanity so that we could have a personal relationship, a friendship, with him. Our Lord’s relationship with his first disciples, as he walked this earth for a few short years, reveals to us the relationship that he desires to have with each of us.
God did not want to remain aloof and distant from human beings, but rather immersed himself in our life. This means that there is nothing too small for us to bring to him, nothing too insignificant for him to be concerned about. After all, he knew what it meant to be diapered.
Jesus came into the world to bring mercy, redemption and healing to the chaos created by our rebellion, our sin. God was born as a baby so that we could encounter the living God and be transformed by his goodness and forgiveness. The only condition is that we have to desire, seek and be open to receive and be changed by his transforming love.
The real reason for Christmas joy has nothing to do with decorative lights and shopping at the mall. The source and cause of our joy is our experience that we are loved by God despite the depth of our sin, if we but seek sincerely his mercy. A good post-Christmas/New Year meditation for each of us would be to reflect upon all the ways in which God has manifested his love for us during this past year. Then, reflect upon the same question, only over the course of your lifetime.
If we know what Christmas is truly all about, then the joy of the season is not confined to a few days and does not have to be tucked away with where we store the Christmas decorations for next year. The joy from our friendship with the One born in Bethlehem and wrapped by Mary in swaddling clothes is available to us 365 days a year, 7 days a week, 24 hours a day.
For the Christian, every day is a day to celebrate Christmas — God with us!