Each year the Church begins its liturgical calendar of prayer with the season of Advent. It is celebrated for four weeks before Christmas Day. To prepare us to properly celebrate Christmas it focuses on our readiness to celebrate the birth of Christ, the incarnation, when God accepted our humanity and entered our world as one like us. Advent also reminds us of our need to be prepared for the second coming of Jesus at the end of the world. Because of the many secular distractions in our world today, Advent is an especially important season for our times. The secular world we live in goes to extremes to trivialize God and God’s intervention in our lives and in the world. Christmas for Christians cannot be allowed to be reduced to a celebration of a “Happy Holiday”. It is a feast day celebrating God’s love, that is so great for us, that He chose to become one like us as Jesus and live among us. Keeping Christ the center of our Christmas celebrating requires a conscious effort to not be drawn into the “Happy Holiday” commercialization of the Christmas season. Our focus must be on the true Christmas event when God became man to offer the world peace on Earth not before possible.
The details of the birth of Jesus are known by non-Christians as well as Christians. A young virgin named Mary was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit of God and conceived a male child. In the normal course of time the child was born in a humble stable in a town called Bethlehem, in Judea, in Israel. The name given him was Jesus, which means “savior”, and heaven acclaimed his birth with the appearance of angels and a new star in the sky, for Jesus was both divine and human. Unlike the Pharaohs of Egypt who were mere men who claimed to be gods to impose their power upon others, Jesus was truly God first and humbled himself to become man in order to live among us, instead of coming with armies to show his power, Jesus came as a little child inviting our love. Instead of imposing taxes to add wealth to his kingdom, Jesus brought his kingdom and offered everything to us without demanding anything in return except our love. Focusing on Christ is how we are to celebrate Christmas with our families on Christmas day so that our children know God’s love for them.
The difference between how we celebrate Christmas as a feast day and the secular observance of Christmas merely as a holiday must be clear to our children and to all who observe our Christmas celebrating. Christmas is an expression of our faith and to what we commit our whole lives. We respect others who chose to celebrate Christmas differently. But our celebration of Christmas as a solemn feast day must not be compromised by what others fail to do.
The focal point of every Christian home on Christmas day should be a nativity scene. Whether small or large, the replica of a stable and images representing Jesus’ birth and related figures are symbolic of the divine, historical event that changed the world more than any other event in all of history. There are still wars, greed, persecution and injustice in the world but in Jesus an alternative is not offered for peace, charity, love and justice for all who will accept Him. This good news must not be adulterated with extravagant decorations, present giving and partying that can suggest it is merely a “Happy Holiday”. Christ alone is the reason for the season. Our prayerful celebration of Christmas as a feast day is our proclamation to all the world that it is the birth of Jesus that we celebrate. Only by seriously, openly and honestly celebrating God entering our world as man on the first Christmas can we possibly presume to be prepared for the second coming of Christ at the end of the world. Preparing for the second coming of Christ can not be done at the last moment. It requires accepting and living each day of our lives as part of the Kingdom of God at hand now. It requires allowing God to come before everything else in our lives. It requires trusting totally in Him no matter what obstacles we may face. God, who freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, who fed the Israelites manna, quell and water for forty years in the desert, who became man on the ﬁrst Christmas and who daily offers us his Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity as food in the Holy Eucharist is present to us now to intervene in our lives, to provide for all our needs at any time He chooses. It is this lived faith that will keep us prepared for the second coming of Jesus into the world. He will have no difficulty recognizing us if he is part of our daily lives now.
During Advent we acknowledge the difference between the God-centered Kingdom of God at hand, initiated by Jesus’ birth, and the self-centered kingdom of the world that is driven by materialism.
The Church in its wisdom has given us the season of Advent to encourage us to pray for God to help us discern the meaning of our lives in relation to Him. Celebrating Christmas does not require maxing out credit cards to buy presents and expensive decorations. It only requires that we offer the world peace through the child Jesus who came to offer it to us 2000 years ago on the first Christmas. The love of the child Jesus is the message our children should learn at Christmas.
Featured photo: The Birth of Christ