Here are my thoughts for the Christmas Day, 2007. May the blessings of God be with you and your family and may this truly be a season of peace and joy for all.
Many years ago I used to say that Ebenezer Scrooge had the right idea about Christmas. Now, I never said “bah, humbug!” or anything like that. I never questioned the meaning or reason for Christmas. I just said that Scrooge had the right idea. And every time I did that, I would get criticized, castigated, and ridiculed.
Now, the problem was that the Scrooge that I was referring to was not the Scrooge that dominated Dickens’ “Christmas Carol” but rather the one at the end of the novel who would live the Spirit of Christmas everyday.
Everyone thinks of Scrooge as the miserly old skinflint. To most people, Scrooge was a mean old man and he wasn’t going to change. What this all means to me is that most people failed to understand what Dickens was trying to say and do with the novel.
The same I think can be said about Christmas. How our society views Christmas today is a far cry of what it really means. Christmas today is dominated by the gods of consumerism and selfishness. We speak of the joy of Christmas but it seems to be a joy brought about by the number of presents under the tree that have our names on them. We sing “Joy to the world” but we really mean “joy to me.”
But such celebration and such self-centeredness reminds many people of whom they have lost in the years. It is no wonder that, for many, Christmas is the most depressing time of the year.
Yes, it is a time for families and get-togethers. After all, Jesus was born during what was essentially a family reunion. None of our traditional Christmas stories mentioned the presence of other family members but they would have been there to help with the birth of the baby to be named Jesus. But the family that celebrated the birth of the Christ Child was more than just the blood relatives of Joseph who had come to Bethlehem for the Roman census. It was an extended family that went beyond the accepted societal definitions of that day.
The shepherds were the first outside Joseph’s family to be told that the Christ Child was born. Shepherds occupied one of the lowest rungs in society and their inclusion in the birth celebration was a sign that the message of hope that came with the birth of Christ was a message for all, not just for a few.
The same is true about the arrival of the Magi. The Magi are a reminder that the birth of Christ was for all, not just for a select few. And the Magi brought gifts. They brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh, some of the most expensive gifts know to the society of that day. Today we use this simple act of devotion as a sign that we can receive gifts from our family, our friends, our co-workers, and if need by, from ourselves. We forget that the gold that Mary and Joseph received that day would be used to get them to Egypt when Herod orders the killing of the innocents in order to secure his throne. We forget that Mary will keep the frankincense and myrrh and bring them with her when she and the other women who were Jesus’ disciples go to the tomb on Easter morning to properly prepare His body for burial in the tomb.
We remember that the Magi brought expensive gifts and we expect that others will bring us such gifts. We forget that the Magi gave the gifts without expectation of anything in return. Their knowledge of the world told them that this Child was something special and that they should honor Him, not the other way around. We know that the Magi received a gift because they returned home with the knowledge that they had seen the hope of the world to come.
I have been in churches big and small where the presence of God is perceptibly felt. I have been in church, both big and small, where you cannot feel that presence. I much prefer those churches were God is present. I have been in big churches that were built by people who had the love of Christ in their hearts. I have been in small churches where the building was more important than what transpired inside and there was no love present.
Christmas is about that presence. Christ was born to bring a renewed sense of hope to a people who felt that God had forgotten them. The birth of Christ is our gift from God to be taken, as were the gifts given to Mary, and placed in our hearts to cherish and honor.
Too often, the meaning of Christmas gets pushed aside. Too often, it is not even discussed. Perhaps we need a visit from the Christ Child Himself again to remind us that God had not forgotten us and that there is hope in this world. We have been given that gift of hope called the Christ Child. Like Mary, we need to place that gift in our hearts where it can grow and flourish. And then, like the Ebenezer Scrooge at the end of “The Christmas Carol”, we will live in and with the Spirit of Christmas through all the days of the year. Perhaps we will be like the shepherds who returned to their flocks and told all they met of the great thing that they had seen. Perhaps, we will be like the Magi who changed the path they traveled. And having been given the greatest gift of love ever known to mankind, we will give the gift of love each day.
Christmas can never be about the gifts we got but rather the gifts we give. What gifts did you give?