Anyone who knows me – just ask my staff at HLI – knows I eagerly look forward to the season of Christmas and the wondrous, life-giving message it brings every year. While many do everything possible to celebrate Christmas, they often do so at the expense of why it is worth celebrating.
Shamefully, Christmas has been commercialized and the story of salvation history replaced with secular, nonreligious imagery and stories. With each successive year, the historic event of the Incarnation and Nativity of the Lord, which has forever transformed human history, is celebrated less and less. Our eyes, hearts, and minds are systematically being averted away from the central teaching of Christmas: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
Christmas celebrates the birth of a Child into this world. This Child lived among us, leaving an indelible imprint. He existed in time – in Bethlehem, Nazareth, Galilee, and Jerusalem. This is a reality that some choose to reject, but it cannot be denied. The Child in the crib we contemplate is the Redeemer of the world and of everyone in it. He came that we might have eternal life – to desire, look forward to, and possess after death: “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).
There is nothing wrong with enjoying the festivity and beauty of Christmas, to experience it in the richness and history of our cultures. I, too, love many things about the season: its music, decorations, food, social gatherings, and the generally joyous and charitable spirit the season encourages. The challenge, however, is to avoid being drawn into the superficial, consumeristic mentality and behavior associated with the secular culture’s definition of Christmas, which attempts to overload our senses and draw us away from Christmas’ true meaning and offering to humanity.
Christmas is a feast about Love and how Love entered human history. It is a holy time that invites us to reflect on the most profound issues in life, an occasion of spiritual renewal. Christmas invites us to stretch our hearts and minds and live the spiritual life extraordinarily and deeply. It helps us to nurture within ourselves that unconditional love for our brothers and sisters that the occasion symbolizes, always remembering “that for your sake He became poor although He was rich, so that by His poverty you might become rich” (2 Corinthians 2:8-9).
Sadly, we cannot deny we live in a world that no longer inspires us toward God and eternal life. Yet, with every Christmas comes a message of love, hope, and renewal that instills great joy in the human heart because the Mediator, Savior, and Healer came to redeem us. We rejoice because our Creator and Lord has taken on human flesh and begun His reign over our hearts, not only as God, but also as the Son of Man among the children of men – Emmanuel, God with us.
So, how does Christmas impact us? Are we being averted from faithfully living out the true meaning of Christmas? Do we do Christmas, treating it as many do in secular society? Or, do we embrace Christmas’ fundamental message and the profound opportunity it offers in reconnecting us with the One who came that we might have life? And, finally, will we simply pack Christmas away with the decorations, or will we live Christmas throughout the year?
FATHER SHENAN J. BOQUET is the president of Human Life International (www.hli.org), and a priest of the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, LA.