What are we really celebrating at Christmas?

pax-christi-nativity

The short answer to this question, of course, is “We celebrate Jesus’ birthday.”

But if we stop there, and regard the holiday as just another historical anniversary, we would overlook the life-changing truth: God became man, and was born of the Virgin, to fulfill his saving plan for you.

Jesus knows us, intimately and personally, because He is truly God, the Son of the Father. Existing from all eternity, He thought of us and loved us, eons before He created us.

That’s why the Son descended from heaven and became a baby in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Jesus was undertaking a divine mission to redeem us from our sins and make it possible for us to enjoy life with God forever.

Therein lies the radical newness of Christmas, its fundamental difference from the usual events of human history. Instead of receding ever further away from us over time, Christmas marks a new stage of the relationship between God and humankind – a relationship that is ongoing, touching each one of us, and drawing us toward union with God.

Benedict XVI has spoken movingly of the meaning of Christmas:

At Christmas, therefore, we do not limit ourselves to commemorating the birth of a great figure: we do not simply and abstractly celebrate the birth of the man or in general the mystery of life…

A great light really was lit: the Creator of the universe became flesh, uniting Himself indissolubly with human nature…made Himself tangible to our senses and our minds: we may now touch Him and contemplate Him.

Thus the Word of God “is a ‘Word’ addressed to us…a Person who is concerned with every individual person: He is the Son of the living God Who became man…”

We rejoice that God is not a “remote being, Whom it would never be possible to reach, but a God Who made Himself our neighbor and Who is very close to us, Who has time for each one of us and Who came to stay with us.”

Quotes from General Audience of December 17, 2008

Engaging the Gospel – The Holy Family

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary & Joseph (Year C): Gospel – Luke 2:41-52

Joseph and Mary searched for Jesus “with great anxiety” before finding him in the Temple, a Gospel passage that may offer us hope, comfort, and strength as our own families suffer difficulties.

St John Paul II reflected upon the “demanding yet fascinating roles of the Christian family” in Familiaris Consortio (On the Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World). He concluded by invoking “the protection of the Holy Family of Nazareth” —

Through God’s mysterious design, it was in that family that the Son of God spent long years of a hidden life. It is therefore the prototype and example for all Christian families. It was unique in the world. Its life was passed in anonymity and silence in a little town in Palestine. It underwent trials of poverty, persecution and exile. It glorified God in an incomparably exalted and pure way.

And it will not fail to help Christian families — indeed all the families in the world — to be faithful to their day-to-day duties, to bear the cares and tribulations of life, to be open and generous to the needs of others, and to fulfill with joy the plan of God in their regard.

…I entrust each family to Him, to Mary, and to Joseph. To their hands and their hearts I offer this Exhortation: May it be they who present it to you, venerable Brothers and beloved sons and daughters, and may it be they who open your hearts to the light that the Gospel sheds on every family (86).

Question for reflection: When have I brought my worries about a family member to the Lord?

Engaging the Gospel – Fourth Sunday of Advent

Fourth Sunday of Advent (Year C): Gospel – Luke 1:39-45

Because the Virgin Mary had just conceived Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, her “visitation to Elizabeth thus became a visit from God to His people” (Catechism paragraph 717).

“Mary is acclaimed by Elizabeth, at the prompting of the Spirit and even before the birth of her son, as ‘the mother of my Lord’” (495).

We join in Elizabeth’s greeting whenever we say the “Hail Mary,” which includes key phrases from this Gospel passage:

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth is the first in the long succession of generations who have called Mary blessed….Mary is blessed among women because she believed in the fulfillment of the Lord’s word (2676).

Because she gives us Jesus, her son, Mary is Mother of God and our mother (2677).

Because of Mary’s singular cooperation with the action of the Holy Spirit, the Church loves to pray in communion with the Virgin Mary, to magnify with her the great things the Lord has done for her, and to entrust supplications and praises to her (2682).

In this way we honor God, Who Himself has assigned her this mission in salvation history:

Mary’s role in the Church is inseparable from her union with Christ and flows directly from it (964).

What the Catholic faith believes about Mary is based on what it believes about Christ, and what it teaches about Mary illumines in turn its faith in Christ (487).

Question for reflection: How have I welcomed Mary in my own life?