Lawrence P. Grayson
Christmas is rapidly approaching. It is a time when, in spite of the secular influences that surround us in our daily lives, we experience the joy and peace of God’s presence. The story of Our Lord’s birth, however, is so familiar that we often do not appreciate the meaning and significance of the event.
This day, almost 2,000 years ago, when the “Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us,” marked a turning point in human history, a new era for the human race. Without Christ’s birth – and His death and resurrection 33 years later -- the gates of heaven would still be closed to us. God had come to earth in the person of Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. He who was the maker of the world, before whom “the pillars of the heavens tremble,” took on the lowliness of man and thus exalted the dignity of humanity.
Jesus was not created as we were, with a beginning to our existence. As God, he is eternal, existing outside of time. At His birth, His divine nature united to itself a human nature through Mary. In a much lesser sense we have a similar union of two aspects to our human nature, with body and soul. One is material that will return to dust, and the other spiritual that will continue forever and be rewarded or punished for our earthly behavior.
Our Lord did not come as God in the guise of man, nor come as part God and part man, nor was His nature a mixture of the divine and the human. Rather, Jesus became truly and completely human, while remaining truly and completely God. With all of the human shortcomings He assumed, there was never any lessening of His divine nature. His actions and teachings were always those of the Son of God. This is the essence of the Incarnation, the union of two natures, the divine and the human, in a single person who exerted both. Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, in Life of Christ, described this union as “not so much the conversion of the Godhead into flesh, as the taking of manhood into God” -- a privilege that not even the Angels received.
His birth changed our relationship with our Creator. God was no longer an unseen, unknown, etherial divinity, a mystery that was beyond our comprehension. Now he was a proximate God, with a human nature and form who experienced love and sorrow, joy and friendship, suffering and death to which we could relate. Now we could develop a personal relationship with God. As Pope Benedict XVI, in Jesus of Nazareth, wrote: “now we know his face, now we can call upon him.”
We are in this temporal life to work out our salvation so that we may merit an eternity in the kingdom of God. Jesus, through His coming, gave us the means – grace, the Eucharist, His Church – to attain that salvation.
In spite of the profound implications for mankind of Christ’s birth, there are continuing movements to deemphasize the religious meaning of Christmas. First, the holy day was changed to a holiday and commercialized. It now is the norm to exchange untold numbers of greeting cards and engage in an inordinate amount of gift-giving. The shopping spree is well underway. Even before Halloween, stores began to display Christmas decorations. What once was a month-long marketing blitz starting at Thanksgiving is now a two-month effort to convince us to spend money on material goods.
Next, the holiday was secularized. Shortly after World War II, Christmas was often referred to as Xmas, with the presumed rationale that X stood for the Greek letter chi, the Christian symbol for Christ. While the latter is true, it deemphasized the focus on the birth of Our Lord. Major retailers had for a time – and many still do -- stopped using the word Christmas in their advertising and with their customers. Shoppers frequently hear the sterile refrain, “Seasons Greetings,” as they purchase “holiday” trees. Crèches were replaced with displays of winter scenes, sleighs, trees, bells, birds, Santa Clauses, and about anything other than a reminder of what occurred in Bethlehem 2000 years ago.
Even the focus on Santa Claus, gift-giving and Xmas was not enough. More recently, in the guise of tolerance and inclusiveness in our increasingly multiculturally-sensitive society, there are efforts to eliminate all references to Christ. Christmas programs and traditional carols that refer to God are removed from school programs, while students have a winter break. Nativity scenes are banned from city halls and shopping malls. The Board of Education of Montgomery County recently eliminated all references to religious holidays from the school calendar, while some schools even stay away from the use of red and green colors in this season lest they evoke a recollection of Christmas. The same Christ Child who could find no place in the public inn is now being expunged from public memory.
The silencing of Christmas is more than just being concerned about the sensitivities of non- Christians. It is a step toward suppressing those moral beliefs that stand for the protection of the unborn, the sanctity of life at all stages, the inviolability of tradition marriage. There can be no further accommodation without an annihilation of Catholic identity, a loss of religious freedom, and a denigration of societal mores based on virtue and morality.
Let us not be hesitant to express our religious beliefs and celebrate our traditions. We must not allow secular forces to remove God from the culture and thus to preclude His public recognition from the experiences of our children and grandchildren. While celebrating the birth of Christ is a sign of faith in God, it also is a public recognition that we and this nation owe our existence to God.
In the days ahead, let us display a crèche in our homes and yards, patronize retailers who recognize Christmas, send religious greeting cards, promote seasonal songs that praise God, and prepare ourselves spiritually -- say the rosary, spend time in Eucharistic Adoration, go to Confession, meditate on the liturgical readings -- so that when we go to Mass on Christmas Day, we can be truly joyous about the birth of our Lord.
May Jesus continue to live in our hearts, our society, and in the world. Merry Christmas!
* * * * *
Published December 2014