What are we really celebrating at Christmas?

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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

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Christmas: a feast of God’s personal love for us

I think God must have said to Himself: Man does not love Me because he does not see Me; I will show Myself to him and thus make him love Me. God’s love for man was very great, and had been great from all eternity, but this love had not yet become visible…Then, it really appeared; the Son of God let Himself be seen as a tiny Babe in a stable, lying on a little straw.

— St. Alphonsus Liguori, quoted by Fr. Gabriel in Divine Intimacy, p. 83.

May these poignant words of St. Alphonsus help us to grasp more fully the meaning of Christmas. Jesus’ birth isn’t simply an historical event from long ago, which we may feel is too distant and remote from us.

It does involve us, in a deeply personal way, for the Eternal Son of God became man with each one of us in mind. The Lord thought of every human being that has ever existed, and ever will exist. Loving us with a personal love, He acted to save us from our sins and restore us to His friendship.

This same Jesus, Who humbled Himself to come as a vulnerable infant, continues to come to us – preeminently in the Eucharist.

When fashioning the entire arc of salvation history, God carved out our own special place within His design. We belong to this divine love story, if we would only accept Our Lord’s invitation.

One of the great figures of the 20th century Liturgical Movement, Pius Parsch, expressed it thus:

In the night of eternity, you were chosen by the Father; in the holy night of our Savior’s birth, you were remembered in the heart of God’s newborn Son and made His brother and sister; and now the Father draws you to His loving heart: With My Son, born in the stable, you have become My dearest child. With Jesus you are celebrating a birthday, reborn unto God in the holiest of nights.

— The Church’s Year of Grace, Vol. I, p. 213.

The Awesome Truth about Christmas

The Nativity Scene at the Cathedral of Christ the King in Lexington, Ky.

The Nativity Scene at the Cathedral of Christ the King in Lexington, Ky.

Are we so accustomed to Christmas that we overlook the shocking truth of what we’re actually celebrating?

Christmas, “Christ’s Mass,” marks the birth of Our Lord. What a startling fact: God has become man to redeem us! God the Son, the Eternal Word of the Father, holds His arms out to us as a newborn baby!

Pope St. Leo the Great (d. 461) describes the mind-boggling awesomeness:

He comes down from the throne of heaven…Invisible in His own nature, He became visible in ours. Beyond our grasp, He chose to come within our grasp. Existing before time began, He began to exist at a moment in time. Lord of the universe, He hid His infinite glory, and took the nature of a servant. Incapable of suffering as God, He did not refuse to be a man, capable of suffering. Immortal, He chose to be subject to the laws of death.

Leo’s words are recalled especially for our March 25 celebration of the Annunciation, when the Blessed Virgin Mary accepted her role in salvation history, the Holy Spirit overshadowed her, and she conceived Jesus — the precise instant of the Incarnation, the enfleshment, of the Lord.

God went to such extraordinary lengths to seek us out, cultivate a relationship with us, and save us so that we may enjoy eternal life with Him.

That in turn calls for a response from us, to welcome the Lord into every aspect of our lives. Can’t we respond with greater love and fidelity to the One Who has loved us infinitely?

Thy Kingdom Come

Although the Kingdom of God has begun to come in Christ, and continues among us through His Real Presence in the Eucharist, and in the Church, it has not yet reached its final consummation.

We therefore pray for its perfect fulfillment, when Christ returns in glory, and hands over the Kingdom to God the Father.

By looking forward to the Lord’s coming, our minds turn to the last things – death, judgment, heaven, and hell. We recognize our own need to prepare, so that we may be ready to welcome the Lord whenever He comes for us.

The liturgical season of Advent is focused upon the theme of preparation for His coming. We most often associate Advent with salvation history, setting the stage for our celebration of Christmas, the mystery of God’s becoming a newborn baby.

But Christ’s coming is not just a single historical event. We experience many comings of the Lord: He regularly enters our hearts through His grace, pre-eminently when we receive His Body and Blood in the Eucharist. Let us reflect upon the ways that Christ comes to us, in history, in our lives, and in His ultimate return at the end of time.

For more, see Catechism paragraphs 2816-21.

The Greatest Gift

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From Pius Parsch’s The Church’s Year of Grace:

The Church foresees the entire work of redemption accomplished in the birth of Christ. In Christ we have received every good, in Him we have received God’s greatest gift.

Everything our faith holds as worthy of desire we obtain in Christ — divine adoption, the Church, the Eucharist, heaven…It is as though Mother Church wishes to pour out anew at Christmas the fullness of her grace-treasures.

Shouldn’t these reflections help in understanding the symbolism of the Christmas tree? Yes, shower your gifts, your joy, your kindness, and your love upon all, for these are symbols of Christ, the greatest Gift heaven itself could send us.

Vol. I: Advent to Candlemas, p. 138

May you have a blessed Christmas season!

Jesus’ Early Life

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 512-34:

  • Jesus’ entire life is bound up in the mystery of our redemption; His humanity is a sacrament – a sign and instrument – of His divinity and the salvation He brings.
  • God took centuries to prepare humankind for the coming of the Son, preeminently through the divine Revelation to Israel, as set forth in the Old Testament.
  • This careful preparation culminated in St. John the Baptist, the last of the prophets, who served as the forerunner heralding His imminent arrival; we enter into this spirit of expectant waiting for the Messiah during the season of Advent.
  • The Son of God humbled himself to become a tiny baby, born in menial circumstances in a stable; we celebrate His birth, this extraordinary condescension of His love for us, during Christmas.
  • In submission to the Law, Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day, and was thereby formally incorporated into the people of Israel.
  • The baby Jesus was revealed as the Messiah and Savior of the world when the pagan magi came to adore Him, prefiguring all of the Gentiles who would believe in Christ; we celebrate this “Epiphany,” from the Greek for “manifestation.”
  • During the Presentation of the infant Jesus in the Temple, He was hailed as Messiah by Simeon, symbolizing Israel’s long-awaited encounter with the Savior.
  • But the forces of evil were already marshaling against Him; King Herod, in an attempt to destroy the Messiah, massacred all of the baby boys in Bethlehem; the Holy Family escaped by fleeing to Egypt for a time.
  • The child Jesus was obedient to Joseph and Mary; the Holy Family lived a normal daily life in Nazareth, giving us the model for family life.
  • At the age of 12, Jesus was found in the Temple, engaged in brilliant discussion with the religious scholars; thus Jesus knew who He was, and was already attuned to His purpose long before commencing public ministry.

Live Your Faith

Almighty God willingly humbled Himself to share the physical existence, drudgery, pain, and even death, of humanity.

In so doing, Jesus sanctified the most ordinary and mundane aspects of human life. He helped with household chores, spent time at His lessons, learned the carpenter’s craft from St. Joseph, and worked in the family business.

As a result, our daily routine can also be a path to holiness for us. Let us consciously offer it to Jesus, knowing that He has done the same, out of love for us.