Michael F. Di Gregorio, O.S.A.
Province of Saint Thomas of Villanova
Is 62: 1-5
Ps 89: 4-5, 16-17, 27, 29
Acts 13: 16-17, 22-25
Matt 1: 18-25
Among my favorite Christmas stories is one that has little direct connection to Bethlehem or angels and shepherds, or carols or even Hallmark movies. Rather, it’s an episode from the television series Everybody Loves Raymond. Raymond, the favored son of the family, decides to give his parents the gift of a toaster for Christmas, inscribed with a message of love from his wife, his children and himself. Two days after Christmas he comes to discover that his parents, on unwrapping the outer paper, see what the gift is, don’t open the box, but bring it back to Bloomingdale’s in order to exchange it for a coffee maker. Raymond is incensed, not only because they returned it (to the wrong store, in fact), but because they hadn’t even opened the box to see written there the inscription that made the gift, in his mind, so personal and special.
The episode came to my mind as I began to think of the original Christmas story which you and I recall this day, and the significance of the Gift which this feast celebrates with such festivity and joy. The giving and receiving of gifts is an integral part of our Christmas celebration, and it is important to recall the fact that it has become so, precisely because Christmas celebrates the Gift which God the Father has given to us of his own son. To consider the child born to Mary as Gift doesn’t require a great stretch of our imagination at all – parents understand very well the birth of a child as something given to them, all the more when that birth has not come easily, or only with a great deal of waiting and praying. But the child whose birth we commemorate today is given not only to this one couple long ago and far away, he is given to the world and to all peoples of every place and time.
And what does it mean that Jesus is Gift! What did the Father intend in giving him? What impact does he have? Are our lives changed by the giving, are they enhanced? Or, as sadly seems the case for some, is this a gift without consequence, not the one I really wanted, ornamental but useless, impractical and better exchanged for another?
While there is so much about Christmas that is enchanting and uplifting, romantic and hopefilled, such that even non-believers enjoy celebrating in some way, we run the risk, that getting caught up in traditions that are meant to increase our festivity, we overlook the essential message proclaimed in the Gospel we hear on this feast: Today a savior has been born for you who is Christ, the anointed one, and Lord.
What makes the birth of the child of Bethlehem something extraordinary is not so much due to the singing of angels and the gathering of shepherds. It’s not in the things that surround the birth, rather, it’s in the awareness of who this is, who he will become, how he will manifest himself, what he will say and what he will accomplish.
Today we remember that light enters into darkness in a most powerful way, not simply the darkness of night, but the dark places of our lives and of our world.
… Hope shatters the discouragement and disillusionment that surround us, to pull us up again and move us forward.
… Justice and peace become the promise offered to those who feel betrayed and whose lives are shattered by violence and hatred.
… And our lives are filled with meaning because in this child, this man, we gain an identity: Christian is our name, eternal-abundant-fruitful life in God is our ultimate destination, and the journey there is spent in the consoling and encouraging company of fellow travelers.