With the death of my mother, the family matriarch who delighted in all things Christmas, I needed fresh insights into the deeper meaning of this first Christmas without her. Reviewing Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s Christmas reflections provided me with needed perspectives. Hopefully you’ll also find them to be full of light.
1. “Yes, my life has meaning! Is that possible?”
The eternal meaning of the world has come to us in so real a manner that we can touch him and see him (cf. 1 Jn 1:1). For what John calls “the Word” also means in Greek “the meaning”. Accordingly, we could perfectly well translate: “The meaning became flesh.”
But this meaning is not simply a general idea that is inherent in the world. The meaning addresses us: the meaning is a word spoken to us. The meaning knows us; it calls to us; it leads us. The meaning is not a universal law in which we play some kind of role. It is meant personally for each individual. The meaning is itself a person: The Son of the living God, who was born in a stable in Bethlehem. The meaning has power. It is God. And God is good.
God is not some remote highest being, forever inaccessible. He is very close to us; we can call to him; we can always reach him. He has time for me, so much time that he lay as a man in the crib and remains a man for all eternity.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, I acknowledge that You created me from love and for love. You give my life meaning. Help me to value my life and to fulfill its purpose according to the divine will. I am Yours, Lord, and You are mine.
2. “God wanted and wants our love”
We are too proud to see God. We are like Herod and his theological specialists: on this level, we no longer hear the angels singing. On this level, we may find God either threatening or boring — but nothing more than that! On this level, we no longer want to be “his own possession”, that is, God’s possession. All we want is to belong to our own selves.
He came as a child, in order to break down our pride. Perhaps we would have capitulated before power or wisdom…, but he does not want our capitulation: he wants our love. He wants to free us from our pride and, thus, to make us truly free.
Let us then allow the joy of this day to penetrate our souls. It is no illusion. It is the truth. For the truth—the ultimate and genuine truth—is beautiful. And it is good. When men encounter it, they become good. The truth speaks to us in the child who is God’s own Son.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, I acknowledge that You wanted and want my love. As the Christ Child, your love gently breaks down my pride. When I see You in the Crib, so poor and small, I no longer want my pride; I desire to be like You, small and full of love.
3. “A time of joy that no suffering can drive away”
Christmas has become the feast when we give presents, when we imitate the God who has given his own self and has thereby given us once again that life which truly becomes a gift only when the “milk” of our existence is sweetened by the “honey” of being loved. And this love is not threatened by any death, any infidelity, or any meaninglessness.
Ultimately, all this finds its unity in the joy that God has become a child who encourages us to trust as children trust and to give and receive gifts.
It may be difficult for us to accept this joyful music when we are tormented by questions, when we are afflicted both by bodily illness and psychological problems, and these would tend to make us rebel against the God whom we cannot understand. But this child is a sign of hope precisely for those who are oppressed. And this is why he has awakened an echo so pure that its consoling power can touch the hearts even of unbelievers.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, I acknowledge that you arrive into my world to feed me the sweetness of heavenly honey: the love that cannot be driven away by suffering or death. In you I find the joy of existence and the unity of peace. To you I surrender my restlessness, and I receive your peace.
4. “A new beginning through Mary’s Fiat”
A new beginning is made. This true beginning that determines everything takes place through faith—through Mary’s fiat. This true beginning is prefigured and anticipated in something that again and again led to an effective beginning in Israel: the faith of mothers, the faith of foreigners.
This beginning can become a present reality at every moment, making possible a relatedness to Jesus and union with him. Mary’s fiat is the sphere we can enter. Here, a beginning takes place; here, we touch the Incarnation of the Lord of which the Gospel speaks to us; here, too, we approach God’s answer to the prayer in which the Church’s liturgy sums up the Gospel: the request that we men may share in the life of God, with Christ, and in Christ.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, I acknowledge that your Nativity marks a new beginning for me. With your help, I desire to let go of the past, to attachments that are not pleasing to you, so that I am free to begin again, a new creation in you. My new adventure of love begins today.
5. “The fruit from the tree of life”
We must be accepted, and we must let ourselves be accepted. We must transform our dependency into love and become free therein. We must be born again, laying aside our pride and becoming a child. In the child Jesus, we must recognize and receive the fruit of life. This is what Christmas is meant to bring about in us. Jesus, who is himself the fruit of the tree of life, has become so small that our hands can enclose him. He makes himself dependent upon us in order to make us free and to raise us up from our “sickness where we fall down”. Let us not disappoint the trust he places in us. Let us place ourselves in his hands, just as he has placed himself in our hands!
Prayer: Lord Jesus, I acknowledge that you are the perpetual fruit of the tree of life. You have called me to be a trusting child, accepted by you, and accepting of your perfect mercy. Your nativity invites me to rebirth in humble love. I am reborn on the glorious tree of life; my hand in yours.
6. “Who recognized Him and who failed to recognize Him?”
But do we really recognize him? In order to discover the answer, we must return with the Fathers of the Church to the first Christmas. Who recognized him? And who failed to recognize him? And why was this so?
The one who failed to recognize him was Herod, who did not even understand when they told him about the child: instead, he was blinded all the more deeply by his list for power and the accompanying paranoia (Mt 2:3). Those who failed to recognize him were the learned masters who were experts in the Bible, the specialists in biblical interpretation who admittedly know the correct passage in Scripture but still failed to understand anything (Mt 2:6).
Those who recognized him were the “ox and the ass” (in comparison to these men of prestige): the shepherds, the Magi, Mary and Joseph. And what about us? When we place the familiar figures in the crib scene, we ought to ask God to give our hearts the simplicity that discovers the Lord in the child. For then, we too, might experience what the shepherds did on the first night, “each went home full of joy.”
Prayer: Lord Jesus, I acknowledge that I am blind in recognizing you in every person and place where you are. Graciously open my eyes to see what the ox and ass, the Magi, Mary and Joseph saw on the first holy, silent night of your birth. Then, I will know joy.
7. “Silence: the sphere where Christ was born”
Silence is the sphere where God is born. Christmas invites us into this silence of God, and his mystery remains hidden to so many people because they cannot find the silence in which God acts. How do we find it? Mere silence on its own does not suffice to create it, for a man may be silent externally while in himself he is torn this way and that by all the confusion of the world. It is possible to keep silent yet experience a terrible din within oneself.
Becoming silent means discovering a new order of things. It means that I do not limit my interest to those things that men consider important and valuable. Silence means developing the inner senses, the sense of the conscience, the sensitivity to the eternal in us, the ability to listen to God.
Are we developing in the wrong direction: a lot of technology, but not much soul? A thick armor plating of material know-how, but a heart that has become empty? Have we not lost the ability to perceive the voice of God in us and to recognize and acknowledge the good, the beautiful and the true?
Prayer: Lord Jesus, I acknowledge my need to become silent within, to listen with my heart, and perceive with my mind, your silent perfect love. On this silent night of your birth, may I begin to enter the silence of perfect love.