Putting Christ in Christmas
By Fr. Nilo A. Lardizabal, OP
Christmas time is upon us. Is Christ in Christmas - in your Christmas?
I hear a lot of people already talking about what to give and what they want in return. As early as September, Christmas carols are played in every major radio station. Advertisements and promotions are reaping the benefits of a splurge in spending, through sales and discounts. People are again busy – it is, after all, that time of the year.
But it is also the time of the year in the Church where Christians are given the opportunity to prepare themselves spiritually for the coming of Christ. The four weeks preceeding Christmas is what we ADVENT – four weeks of reflection and prayer for an event devoid of gifts, carols or sales, that happened in the silence of a manger two thousand years ago. It is this time and event which is – and should be – commemorated.
There is a very beautiful hymn we Catholics sing at church, and it brings us to all the time zones in the life of Christ, and in our own lives as well. It goes: “We remember how you loved us, through your death, and still we celebrate for you are with us here. And we believe that we will see you, when you come, in your glory Lord. We remember, we celebrate, we believe.”
This is an episode where the life of Christ on earth becomes intertwined with our own. And this hymn is one of the reasons we celebrate Christmas.
“We remember how you loved us through your death…”
Christ’s death will not come about unless He was born. This brings us to the past. I encounter a lot of people who seem to suffer from “memory gap”. It’s sad because they have been so forgetful (or busy) that they miss going to Sunday Mass, or that they neglect prayer, or forget even to say “hi” to a loved one in the family. Our bodies and minds are made so that we can remember the many good things in life and learn from the painful mistakes.
Advent and Christmas bring us to the time when Jesus was born in all poverty and humility. The Son of God was “born of a woman…” Many commentators say that His birth meant His impending death. In other words, He was born to die. Death on our part is both certain and uncertain. It is certain because it will come one time or another, but uncertain because we “do not know the day or the hour.” Physically we become dust (Genesis 3:19). But there is also a spiritual death.
In the Gospel, when Jesus speaks of clinical death, He usually refers to them as “sleeping”. This was what He said when His dear friend Lazarus died (John 11:11-15), or when He raised a young girl back to life. But when the Bible speaks of death, Jesus points to a “spiritual” one. Spiritual death means living in sin (Romans 6:23).
That is why Advent and Christmas is a time to be reconciled to the Lord so that we can be brought to life again. This is our true Hope (Romans 6:22). Our hope is that we conquer our own spiritual deaths and be “born again” in Christ. Just as Christ died and rose again in the past, we are invited to do the same today.
“And still we celebrate for you are with us here…”
This is our task in the “present”. We celebrate because we have been made new by Christ Himself. That is why Christmas is celebrated every year – we are making Christ “present again” by remembering Him, we are putting Christ in Christmas. Parties, outings and gifts are all good but the best present or gift is the one we remember – the real birthday Celebrant!
Many of us worry too much; or many are afraid of what is in store in life. Advent prepares us to trust in God more in His plan of love and mercy. The Bible teaches us to put ourselves in the hands of the Lord (I Peter 5:7) because Christ is present “here”. He will never leave us. It is sad that some sects believe that Jesus “left” the Church by itself, and then came back only in the 20th century. Let us hold on to what the Lord himself said, as recorded in the Bible: “I will be with you until the end of the ages.” (Matthew 28:20)
And what greater celebration than the Holy Eucharist – the sacrifice of the Mass! It is there where Christ is truly present, although sacramentally in the bread and wine. Jesus wants us to remember Him and what He did for us – “do this in memory of me.” That is why there is reason to hope…
“And we believe that we will see you when you come in your glory Lord.”
This is our future – a vision of being united with Jesus. We are waiting for this time; yet how can we wait if we are not preparing? Again, it is the very reason why Advent is celebrated. Maybe it is the time when we should go to confession, or be more attentive at Mass, or be the “good news” for others. When we meet Jesus, we are like the angels (Matthew 22:30) – so majestic and glorious! But we have to work for it; and it starts here and now. God is the beginning and the end.
“We remember, we celebrate, we believe.”
Isn’t it curious that the Church calendar begins at the last month of the year? It has to be because Christ was born that month. Advent will be the start of a yearlong reflection, up until His resurrection. We will journey with Christ, starting from His birth. And just as He succeeded over all the problems and trials, so too will we be victorious.
But there is something to do – we must TRUST. Christians should be ready to face all challenges the way Christ did (2 Timothy 4:6-8). In the end, there is nothing to be afraid of – even death itself (Philippians 1:20). Christ is our victory from the very manger where He was born.
Where is Christ in Christmas? In particular, where is Christ in your Christmas? We are busy with everything else, but where is He in our hearts? Houses are loaded with lights, trees and gifts – will there still be a place in the heart of each believer? Let us remember the good things He gave us, and celebrate the gift of faith and presence so that we can believe and aspire for a better future – a future with God Himself.
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