DO I LOVE CHRISTMAS? I found myself asking myself that question this year a few times. I do not keep it as well, enjoy it as much or find as much hope as I did in years when I could face the suffering associated with the season differently than I find I can now. But I do love Christmas. I hope I will find a way to love this particular Christmas and so will you whoever you are.
There is a lot to post about and yet not the kind of post to write which fills me with drive and inspiration. I believe in Christ and in Christmas. There is no shortage of joy in which some memories are lit despite the abundance of sorrows and shadows in the past as well. Christmas will always matter and be important to me.
I like the original Charlie Brown Christmas Special which in the most secular reaches of American popular Christmas culture reaches out with a reading of the Gospel of St. Luke and the Infancy narrative which so beautifully captures all of the essence of Christmas. The classic Christmas story is contained in the second chapter of Saint Luke’s Gospel verses two through twenty. It does not seem like so many words for such a big holiday. This first big quote comes from a translation known as the New International Version of the Bible. Later quotes from the other Gospels come from the New American Bible Translation.
1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)3 And everyone went to his own town to register. 4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” 15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” 16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
To write of Christmas is to write of so very much. To write even of the Christmas Days I remember is surely to write of a subject that could fill a book well enough. When books are needed I think first and foremost of the Gospels. My heart is still moved by those glad tidings. Not so moved as the heart ought to be perhaps but moved. What does it mean? Surely, it means several things but what is the spiritual original context?
The first chapter of the Good News of Jesus Christ According to Saint John tells us: “In the Beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” After telling a few words of how this mystery operates John assures us that God sent John the Baptist who was not such an eternal being to prepare the way for this Word. This great mysterious Divine being had come into Earth and history and is at the heart of the Gospel. The fourteenth verse gets to the crux of the matter. This being is not a visiting angel or elemental principle, rather:
“And the Word became flesh
And made his dwelling among us,
And we saw his glory,
The glory as of the Father’s only Son,
Full of grace and truth.”
Saint John then is the Evangelist who tells us the most clearly of the Divine Nature of the Christ and how his coming into human flesh through the nature of pregnancy and birth and family brought the Divine and Human into One in Jesus Christ. According to Saint Matthew’s Gospel in the first chapter and eighteenth birth this incarnation of the Divine Word happened in a very specific way:
Now, this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.
When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph,
but before they lived together,
she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.”
Matthew will soon tell us of how Jesus is born in Bethlehem and visited by the Magi. But all of the story of how they got to Bethlehem and how Mary found herself with child by the Holy Spirit are found in Luke’s Gospel. Luke is really the Christmas Evangelist above all others. In the first chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel he describes the Angel Gabriel visiting Mary and her conversation with him as the time when the Holy Spirit was revealed to be coming upon her. Pregnant she visits her cousin Elizabeth the now pregnant but long barren wife of a priest at the Jerusalem temple. She stayed there to help her cousin be helped and to witness the birth of Jesus’s cousin John who is in the early chapters of all four Gospels. She and Joseph marry after (according to Saint Matthew) angel had instructed him on the nature of the holy child.
I think of all that Christmas is and not only its origins or even its spiritual aspects.
The quotes from the centuries since the first Noel which appear in this post are previously collected. Some I read in their original context and some I did not but they come from Goodreads, Brainy Quote and Bartlett’s Famous Quotations. I will also note that my own writings about Christmas in this blog include this year’s offering here and here. Also earlier years led me to write this and this. These last two posts are not all I have written here they are a good enough sample for those inclined to read them.
Most Americans and most residents of Christendom believe Christmas is and should be a very good occasion. Benjamin Franklin stated, “A good conscience is a continual Christmas”. Franklin expected all his audience to think Christmas was a very nice thing to have. Hope, peace, rest and good food have meant a lot to many people. On this holiday of well-known practices one can base deeper meaning and higher hopes as Washington Irving wrote “Christmas is a season for kindling the fire for hospitality in the hall, the genial flame of charity in the heart.” We all want to find a little Christmas we can keep well if we are honest with ourselves. This is most true for Christians but also for to others who catch the scent of the season.
But we also know it is not easy. Not always do we w feel bettered by the season. Sometimes the most we can do is agree with Lake Woebegone writer Garrison Keillor — “A lovely thing about Christmas is that it’s compulsory, like a thunderstorm, and we all go through it together”.
I have run lot of errands and I have bought lots of things on behalf of other people. I have seen others buying and selling some I think were well enough aware at the donation boxes for toy drives, Salvation Army kettles and in dealing with lines and hassles that they did not want the holiday to make them too selfish or too materialistic. They and I were aware of the idea in the classic children’s Christmas story.
“Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”― Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!
Even those more interested in Chanukah or Chinese New Year could know that whatever Christmas they kept should be a bit real. Without having heard it they were concerned about Benjamin Franklin’s other famous quote about Christmas: “How many observe Christ’s birthday! How few, His precepts!” We mostly hope there is some real Christmas joy in the homes where we mark the day.
The great novelist who gave us the Christmas Carol was perhaps a conflicted Christian at times but he was a man serious about Christmas. It was Charles Dickens I think who wrote his own vow in Ebenezer Scrooge’s vow “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” We can remember the best we have seen of giving and receiving between families and children. Those things remind us of the best of the shopping part of the holiday. In our memories too we remember innocent joys of gratitude and wonder from our own dawn of awareness of the holiday. A chronicler of the American frontier and children’s writer Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote: “Our hearts grow tender with childhood memories and love of kindred, and we are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child again at Christmas-time.”
But we know the shopping for loved ones is not enough. even the toydrives are not enough. Maraboli is one of many writers who reminds us ot the teaching of the Man we honor as a baby just now. There is more to do:
Want to keep Christ in Christmas? Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, forgive the guilty,
“Want to keep Christ in Christmas? Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, forgive the guilty, welcome the unwanted, care for the ill, love your enemies, and do unto others as you would have done unto you.”
― Steve Maraboli, Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience
Christmas is noted by all of us in different ways. None of us perfectly and I do not think parties, drinks and flirting are out of place. My better Christmases involved more of such things. But let us remember Christmas in all its mysteries. Merry Christmas to you all.
Then when we get to New Year’s Eve maybe our party will be based on hopes and joys built to carry us into the new year in a more sturdy way. I am not feeling all the glee of the season’s best impulses but yeas I do believe in them.