As we approach Christmas, we think about the gift of the Incarnation. In the infinite ways our God could have chosen to reveal himself to the world, he chose the Incarnation. Being the recipients of this gift, we at times neglect to fully appreciate the significance of this mystery.
The Son of God assumed our flesh, body and soul and lived like one of us in order to redeem us. This union established for us the ability to know our God in an intimate way through his Son, who is the perfect revelation of his Father. Why would this infinite God choose to be one with his creatures? The simple answer is that he loves us and desired to share in every aspect of our being.
In this simple Christmas story, he is united to us. He is a baby born into poverty. His dwelling is shared with creatures of the earth. His uniqueness is acknowledged by shepherds and kings, the lowly and the esteemed. He is threatened with bodily violence and pursued by earthly powers. His family flees to another country for safety and shelter. We are already beginning to understand that the experience of the Son of God is not separated from our experience in the world. Through the Incarnation, a type of solidarity is formed with all of humankind.
Today, as secular society attempts to usurp the Christmas season, we should understand that there is a need for the secularists to cleanse Christmas of its religious meaning. The very term “Christmas” is challenged in some circles. They want to replace the term Christmas season with the generic holiday season. Explicitly and implicitly there is an effort to divorce the celebration of Christmas from the religious meaning.
On the one hand, society wants to reap the benefits of the Christmas spirit but on the other hand, it does not want to acknowledge the reason that generates this sense of giving. Of course, society recognizes that the concept of giving is good for the economy.
The news media recently reported how elated everyone was for the sake of the economy about the pre-Christmas sales that happened after Thanksgiving. It’s ironic to think that the same department stores that were abandoning “Merry Christmas” in favor of the neutral “Happy Holidays,” now wished everyone a “Merry Christmas” – especially if it meant that total sales percentages are up over the Christmas Season oops! I mean “Holiday Season.”
Many might ask: “Is this really an important issue, arguing over “Holiday” or “Christmas”? The issue is the denial of the truth and the use of language to express something entirely different, using the word “holiday” to mask what the season is and why it exists.
The reality is that it is Christmas and, even if there are those who refuse to celebrate the profound religious significance, all should at least understand that this generous love of God is the motivation for the celebration.
Society didn’t arbitrarily select Dec. 25 as a holiday of “giving” to be celebrated by the nation. It selected Christmas, which reflected the cultural reality of its citizens who celebrated this feast apart from state recognition.
For some Christian cultures, Epiphany is the time for giving, mirroring the gifts brought by the Magi. “Giving” at Christmas can be traced to the generosity of God’s gift of his Son to us. This has inspired many to imitate the generous love of God toward others, especially the less fortunate.
Santa Claus himself is a “knock off” of St. Nicholas, a bishop, who used his personal wealth to help others who were in need. This sense of generosity inspired many in the early church. Although I like jolly old St. Nick, it gives me personal comfort to know that St. Nick wore a miter and carried a crosier.
When secular society usurps “giving” at Christmas, it usually separates the gift from the generosity of God’s gift. The gift takes on significantly different meanings. The bigger gift is always better. The more expensive the gift, the greater is the love. A “quid pro quo” – you give me this gift, I give you that gift. In reflecting on God’s gift of his Son, the gift is a tiny infant. No price could ever be placed on life and we could never return to God the gift he has given to us.
As the archbishop of Milwaukee, I am proud that many of our pastors and parish staff throughout the archdiocese remind us that the generosity of God’s love is to be shared. The blessings we have in our own lives are multiplied when we reach out to others, especially those who do not have the ability to return the gift. In a small way,, it is then that we begin to experience the action of God’s love for us in the gift of his Son.
During the Christmas season in our parish communities gifts are collected, meals are served and those that are shut in are visited, sharing the goodwill of the Christmas season.
There are organizations within our archdiocese that assist us in sharing our blessings; they need our support. The St. Vincent de Paul Society actively reaches out to those in need and always welcomes anyone willing to lend a helping hand. Catholic Charities of Milwaukee is attentive all year round to the underprivileged in our communities, but at Christmas there is even a greater demand to make sure that no one is forgotten.
Understanding the meaning of Christmas makes us realize that it’s not about us but about a generous God who loves us and calls us to share his love with our brothers and sisters. It’s his love that makes it a Merry Christmas.