By Fr. Joseph Rinaldo, SdC
Dear Bothers and Sisters in Christ, as I prepared the homily for the first Sunday of Advent, I came across one of the concepts of celebrating the birth of Jesus, the second coming and my personal encounter of the Lord when He will call me, sooner than later at my age. I realized that I needed to examine myself. I would like to share the result with you.
Ah, Christmas! “The most wonderful time of the year.” Of course, it’s “the most wonderful time of the year,” but we must not forget what really matters. A time to gather with family and friends and, with smiles on our faces, pretend we aren’t quietly measuring who received the best present and which of our relatives really, really needs to stop drinking. A time to hang tinsel and baubles from the tree, and a time to hang up our hopes of losing those last 10 pounds this year.
Such a joyous season! The real point here is Christmas is what we make of it.
For Christians, however, there are some very specific things you can’t do if you want to actually honor and follow the person we say we celebrate this season.
So, I give myself and other Christians five things we should do at Christmas.
1) Remember Those Without Food
Jesus once said that when we feed the hungry we are feeding Him. Anyone want to guess what it means when we ignore the hungry? How about forgetting about hungry children and their families as we scrape the leftover Christmas ham from our plates into the trash? Maybe we need to change the name of the season to Gluttonousmas? Too many presents, too much food, too little consideration for those in need.
2) Remember Those Without Shelter
One of the key moments in the story Christians celebrate is the moment when Jesus was almost born in the streets of Bethlehem. Our need to clean up the Christmas story assumes that the innkeeper told them to use the manger but the Bible says no such thing. There was no room at the inn, leaving Mary to place her newborn child in a smelly feeding trough. For that night they were without shelter. Throughout His life Jesus would spend His ministry with no place to lay His head. This time of year we celebrate a homeless man. Do our actions, do the places we spend our money, honor that?
3) Remember the Message about Resisting Abusive Power
Mary and Joseph and their family had to flee their homeland because King Herod strong-handedly used his power to squash out what he saw as a threat to his power. I can guarantee you two things: One, in the house where Jesus grew up, the narrative of why they had to flee to Egypt and of the senseless deaths imposed on other families by the powerful was a story that was told time and time again. Two, the focus on abuse of power in Jesus’ teaching and His constant willingness to confront it was no accident. Christmas should cause Christians to recommit to confronting those who abuse power.
4) Remember Those Without Presents
If you have two coats give one away. In announcing the coming of Jesus, John the Baptist told us what God was asking of us. Coats are just an example, a placeholder if you will. If you have two Christmas presents, give one away.
5) Distinguish the Religious Observance with the Secular Holiday
It may be that December 25th was picked as the date to celebrate Jesus’ birth to compete with or even to adopt the followers of the pagan celebration of Saturnalia, which included decorating with evergreens, gift giving and parties. Why does that seem so familiar? I bring this up to make a simple point. A lot of our “War on Christmas” problems would rightfully go away if we simply acknowledged that there are two celebrations of Christmas each year. One is religious and one is not.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!