Here are two beautiful and painfully personal pieces that point to what Christmas is really about — Incarnation, salvation. You might want to read and share.
Fr. Peter John Cameron, O.P. writes about “Christmas and God’s ultimate answer to our anguish“:
My father died suddenly on Christmas Eve morning when he was 49 years old, leaving my mother a widow with seven children. The struggle I faced that Christmas, so I came to realize, was no different from the one that afflicts everyone every day: loss and longing.
My challenge was to pay special attention to Christmas — seeing past the superficial — to get to the mystery’s real meaning. Can Christmas offer an answer to keenly felt sorrow and pain? I have never forgotten consoling words I discovered years later from poet Rainer Maria Rilke to a hurting friend: “Celebrate Christmas in this devout feeling that perhaps God needs this very anguish of yours in order to begin.” And who of us these days is not feeling intense anguish?
The unexpected absence of my father made me yearn for something non-negotiable: a Presence to fill the void. The Son of God coming in the flesh — Emmanuel, God-With-Us — is that Presence. And only a Presence is adequate for answering the emptiness and need that the human being is. Why? Because a Presence is the beginning of the end of barriers in our life. Presence “is to know that there are experiences that lessen the dread of separation, loneliness, and even death,” wrote author Ralph Harper.
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To woo us back to our own humanity, Jesus comes to us — not in magnificence and splendor — but as a baby. St. Bernard spelled out the stunning logic of the Incarnation: “The lesser Jesus became through his human nature, the greater was his goodness; the more he lowered himself for me, the dearer he is to me. Jesus comes as a little one lest we be terrified.”
The whole of Christ’s intention at Christmas is to share his life with us. “Christ did not live his life for himself but for us. . . . Christ enables us to live in him all that he himself lived, and he lives it in us (CCC 519, 521).
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Our family custom on Christmas Eve was to open one gift. Returning home from the Christmas Vigil Mass, my brothers and sisters and I gathered, feeling awkward, wondering what we would do. Wouldn’t opening presents be disrespectful? But my mother assured us that opening gifts is what my father would have wanted. My mother never read the 20th-century Scandinavian writer and Catholic convert Sigrid Unset, but she certainly possessed her wisdom:
“When we give each other Christmas gifts in Jesus’ Name, let us remember that he has given us the sun and the moon and the stars, and the earth with its forests and mountains and oceans — and all that lives and moves upon them. And to save us from our own foolishness, from all our sins, he came down to earth and gave us himself.”
Read the whole piece here.
Karen Swallow Prior writes about being childless at Christmas:
Some holiday traditions offer particular challenges to those who aren’t part of a nuclear family at Christmas, challenges the rest of us might not even imagine. For example, when everyone else is sending out annual Christmas photos of a growing family, does the single person want to reciprocate with her own solo photo shoot? How does a childless member participate in family gift exchanges that only include the children? Does the pandemic mean singles need to give up indoor gatherings that would otherwise include friends from outside the household?
The church is just the place where traditions that include everyone can be cultivated for all members, those with family and those without — not only at Christmas, of course, but especially at Christmas.
Throughout my marriage, the most meaningful and significant time at Christmas for my husband and me was Christmas Eve at our church. For years, we helped lead the services, my husband as a musician and I as a reader of poetry and Scripture. As a worship team, we shared potluck meals and fellowship before and between services each time, a tradition that grew more important to us with each passing year. But then with the church’s closure, this beloved ritual was gone. But not the memories of it.
Traditions give birth to our sense of the past. It is this sense of — and, along with it, a longing for — the past that is the source of nostalgia. Nostalgia — whether for Christmases long gone, for a childhood outgrown or for dreams (like children) that never came to be — is a bittersweet reminder that this earthly place, filled with cherished traditions, treasured memories and painful disappointments — is not our permanent home. Yet, even so, the marvel of it all is that the God of the universe took on flesh, came here as a child and dwelt among us in this temporary home.
He is the gift that transcends all family ties and time-bound traditions. And, as one friend who experienced years of infertility and pregnancy recently reminded me, Scripture says it is “unto us a child is born.”
Because this child is for all of us, no one needs to feel childless at Christmas. But it can take the family of true community to help us unwrap the gift.
Read it all here.
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