The Christmas season is beautiful and inspiring. During Christmastide, many of us have time for quiet contemplation, and we are able to ponder images such as stables and shepherds and Magi and gifts. This season’s stillness and quiet allow us to realize that God showers abundant blessings on us, and that He is preparing us for a dynamic mission. We need to listen and ponder what God has in store. The iconic images of Christmas are a window into beautiful trends in our lives for the year ahead.
The images of the Christmas season remind us to be more childlike in our faith, gazing in wonder at the God who became man. The Incarnation is a central tenet of our faith, and it is necessary for each of us to grow in our devotion to the reality of God-in-Flesh. We could take the whole year to ponder this truth and not exhaust its richness. Yet, secular modernity will tell us that it is unreasonable to believe in a God who would lower Himself to our level. Indeed, they are correct! That is why Jesus tells us several times in the Gospels that faith flourishes when we “become like children” (Mt. 18:3). In our life of faith, it is often necessary to accept, like a child, that things are real even if they don’t quite make sense. We will be better for it, because we will be able to marvel and wonder at how God does such amazing things that are beyond us. And, He will continue to do them for us, in us, and through us, if we continue to approach Him with the faith of a child.
The images of the Christmas season also help us to rejoice more, and to engage in bringing the joyful tidings of the Gospel to others. At the birth of Jesus, the angels greeted the shepherds in the field: “behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people” (Lk. 2:10). According to historical records, we know that those shepherds had little reason to rejoice. They were among the lowest, least-respected social groups in ancient Palestine. Yet, God sent His messenger to them first. God intends for the Good News to be handed on to “all the people,” not just those who have money or power or education or other modern comforts. There are people in our parishes, our workplaces, and our social organizations, who may seem comfortable and happy, but who desperately need to experience the joy of the Gospel. It is up to us, Christians who have encountered the Good News that transforms lives, to bring that joy to the world!
The characters of the Christmas season also prepare us to search more diligently for the King of Kings, the Logos of the Father. The Magi were the intelligentsia of the ancient Near East (they were not kings, but astronomers, mathematicians, and cartographers). They certainly were on the cutting edge of finding ways to create and enjoy a great life. Yet, they also knew a centuries-old oracle about the star that would rise from the line of the ancient patriarchs and overcome the powers of the world (cf. Num. 24:17-19). So, they went looking. Their search led them to Bethlehem, the House of Bread, where Jesus lay humbly in a feeding trough. In our own day, the wisdom of the world tells us that there are no higher truths, and that the good life is the result of a robust economy and influence over others. Yes, our search for truth, goodness, beauty, and wisdom should happen through education, art, politics, and more, but it should not be limited to these areas. Rather, our search should culminate in the Church, that house where we find the Bread of Life. Specifically, it should culminate in the Bread of Life, Himself, and in the Eucharist. Like the Magi of old, our intellectual and social gifts should be laid at the feet of Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe, especially in the Church’s liturgical worship.
The Christmas season finally reminds us that poverty and detachment are good things. Our modern world has recently become enamored with this concept, especially since the 2016 documentary film, Minimalism. That film is a secular expression of the ancient Christian teaching that “less is more”; that life will be more fulfilling if a person is not possessed by possessions. This is something that Jesus tried to teach long ago, in the Sermon on the Mount. The very first Beatitude (cf. Mt. 5:3) teaches that a blessed, joyful life is gained by giving up material possessions and the all-pervasive ego. Like viewers of the popular film, Christians who practice poverty and detachment find that they have room in their lives for the most fulfilling things, especially relationship with Jesus and with other people.
The images of the Christmas season teach us that the Lord will bestow gifts for a mission. The Magi brought gifts to the nascent Messiah that corresponded to His mission of salvation. God has entrusted each of us the mission of continuing to spread the Good News of salvation through Jesus Christ. To that end, God has granted each of us special talents and spiritual gifts (called charisms; see 1 Cor. 12 or Rom. 12) by which His love will be uniquely manifest in the world. During this quiet season, it is incumbent upon each of us to ponder which gifts God has granted; to accept them in gratitude; and to make a zealous attempt to fulfill our mission by them
So, let us gaze upon the beautiful images of the Christmas season and ponder the ways that God desires to transform us. There is no better time than right now to encounter the Lord, to let that transformation begin, and to live our mission. The next year, indeed any year, will be blessed beyond comprehension if we incorporate the lessons we receive into our lives and live them with fervor.