I remember vividly asking a 5 year old a few years ago, “Why do we celebrate Christmas?” Almost spontaneously the child replied “It is Jesus’ birthday”. Then I decided to probe a little more by asking, “How do we celebrate Jesus’ birthday?” and the reply came, “We open presents that Santa leaves under the Christmas tree while everybody is asleep!” The answer came with bright eyes, a big smile and a charming innocence. I guess through the eyes of a 5 year old, that is what Christmas is all about. In some ways, many of us still identify Christmas through the eyes of that 5 year old as Christmas is the most joyful time of the year… Christmas decorations, new clothes, cookies, and gift exchange. It is no coincidence that the shopping malls are filled with people and cashier counters are lined with people.
Today as we come together, I would like to put to you the same question I asked the 5 year old, “Why do you celebrate Christmas?” It just cannot be about Christmas trees, cookies and presents. It is certainly not because of Santa Claus and his reindeers. Our scripture readings not just of today but throughout Advent have been giving us the answer and I would like to group them in three (3) broad periods based on a long drawn history of God’s promise:
(1) We celebrate Christmas because of a PROMISE foretold. For the first three Sundays in Advent, we heard the prophet Isaiah in the First Reading at Mass. The book of Isaiah is one of the longest books in the Old Testament and the writings within it were composed over a lengthy period of years. During the time of Jesus, nearly 800 years after the prophet’s own life and death, the words of Isaiah continued to be read prominently in the synagogue. The reason why Isaiah is given such prominence in Advent is because he is a prophet of hope and of new beginnings… and he proclaimed the coming of the promised Messiah in great detail We celebrate Christmas because the promise of God gives us hope… that He will come into our lives.
(2) We celebrate Christmas because the PROMISE is made flesh. Today we celebrate God’s solemn entrance in a form like ours, into our world. The promise that was made long ago is now fulfilled by the birth of Jesus. Luke in the gospel proclaims: “Today a saviour has been born to us; he is Christ the Lord.” He comes to us so that He can be, in the words of prophet Isaiah, our Wonder-Counsellor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. In a way that nobody could have imagined, God enters our world so that we can see the God that we worship in and through His Son, Jesus. We celebrate Christmas because God becomes human for the sake of drawing us to Himself.
(3) We celebrate Christmas because the PROMISE continues. The Christmas story never ends. Though we recall today an event in history that took place over 2000 years ago, it is very much in our minds. As much as there are people and societies that would like to take Christ out of Christmas, no one will deny that Jesus is the centre of it all even 2000 years later. This promise continues for us who believe because this wondrous Christ child transforms our lives – our values, our attitudes, our motives. In short, the child Jesus whose birth we celebrate today gives meaning to our existence though we may not comprehend all of it at this moment. We celebrate Christmas because He continues to live in our hearts, minds and actions.
If Christmas is to bring any meaning at all, it should touch our lives in a personal way… in the way the birth of Jesus touched the lives of Mary & Joseph, the shepherds, the wise men, Anna & Simeon and the many others. The Christmas story has to be retold – not the story of how Jesus came to be born but rather how the birth of Jesus affects our lives every day. The greatest gift at Christmas is not something that can be bought in the shopping malls; rather it is Jesus – the greatest gift of all. This is the gift that must be shared. How can I share Jesus this Christmas? I have paraphrased the popular Prayer of St Francis…
Lord, make me a channel to share Jesus this Christmas
If I have taken others for granted, let me express appreciation
If I have unforgiveness towards another, let me reconcile
If I have been harsh in my words and actions, let me show kindness.
Make me a channel to share Jesus this Christmas
If I have judged others, let me show compassion and understanding
If I have gossiped, let me now encourage
If I have not cared about others, let me make space.
O Jesus grant that I may never forget
That you came to live amongst us so that I may see
That you came to love us so that I may feel
That you came to hold us so that I may be loved.