What is the point of Christmas? What does it really mean?
Something fascinating and bewildering has happened with Christmas,
down through the ages; it has spread throughout the world,
evolving and complexifying
and spawning endless knockoffs and variations throughout the world.
In Japan, Christmas has very little to do with Jesus,
but for whatever reason,
it has a great deal to do with Kentucky Fried Chicken!
In Thailand, elephants where Santa hats.
In Oman, there are very few Christians, but a lot of Christmas trees.
Maddening, and yet delightful, too,
as is the news that just days ago, Saudi Arabia –
which prohibits Christianity and confiscates Rosaries –
recently announced that it would begin using the Gregorian Calendar:
named for Pope Gregory,
and which marks time from the birth of…Jesus Christ.
There’s quite a lot of Christmas music, Christmas specials,
Christmas movies and Christmas shopping; but I ask again:
what does Christmas really mean? What is Christmas?
The answer starts with a child, born in a particular place and time.
But we need a clearer answer. Why a child? Why was that the plan?
Christmas only makes sense if we realize this is not just a child,
but God become a child. God become human, one of us. And why?
So that you and I could see God; know God; be friends with God.
“Friends with God” – that’s a challenging idea.
I’m a priest, I study theology, read Scripture,
and prayer is my profession; and even then,
the idea of being “friends with God” is daunting for me,
as maybe it is for you. How do I be friends with God?
But another human being? Someone who wakes and sleeps,
who works and gets tired, who has a family,
who has a people and a history,
who gets up each day and prays,
who goes to the synagogue each Sabbath –
I can be friends with that Man.
That’s why God became Man. That’s why, Christmas.
We call this a time of light in darkness, and its true:
the light that breaks into the darkness of man, closed in on himself.
Never has that been more needed.
You and I live in a time when many think God is a relic of simpler times,
when people needed a way to explain the movements of the stars
and the hidden structures of life on earth;
but now that we’ve travelled to the stars and mapped the genome,
we don’t really need “God.”
Except that in cracking all these other mysteries, one yet remains;
Indeed, it has grown ever more impenetrable;
And that is the mystery of our own selves,
Which is also the mystery of good and evil.
The Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn,
writing about his years as a prisoner in a communist gulag,
explained it perfectly:
“If only it were all so simple!
If only there were evil people somewhere
insidiously committing evil deeds,
and it were necessary only to separate them
from the rest of us and destroy them…”
[But] “the line separating good and evil passes not through states,
nor between classes, nor between political parties either –
but right through every human heart…”
“And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”*
Man can explore and build, and crack things open;
but we are no closer to solving this mystery within ourselves
than we have ever been.
Only God, who knows us better than we know ourselves,
can disclose man to himself.
This is what the Second Vatican Council said:
only in the mystery of God become human
“does the mystery of man take on light”;
only Christ, born this day,
“fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear.”**
So the joy and peace we talk about so much this time of year?
It only has meaning if we can bring it to that divided, human heart;
for that is where all wars begin and end.
Until there is a death of greed and wrath and envy and hatred
in human hearts, in our hearts, will war end – and not an hour,
not a minute, before.
That is the peace that Jesus came to give,
and he freely gives it to all who ask.
This is the real meaning of the sacrament of confession.
It’s not primarily about a box, or a ritual,
or formulas or prayers;
all these things serve a greater purpose:
to invite the Prince of Peace to reign in our hearts.
That is the where all the struggles that really matter happen.
So if you want to give yourself the best Christmas present,
if you want that peace and joy of the season,
nothing beats walking out of confession,
with a soul where all is calm, all is bright, within!
So what is Christmas? God came to make friends.
God took a human face so we could see it, so we could see him.
Talk to him. Know him.
He knows the path that is dark to us.
He penetrates what we cannot fathom in ourselves,
because he created us.
Nothing about us will make him ashamed to call us “friend.”
There is no one so low to whom he did not stoop to meet;
and there is no secret we need hide or fear to share,
for he knows it already, and died on the Cross to wash it all away.
And there is nothing that will keep him from our company,
if we will have him with us.
God was born one of us today
so that we could find him and know him as a friend.
There is no other real point to Christmas without this.
There is nothing worth doing this day as much as this:
To find him. Talk to him. Know him. Let him love you.
Let him explain you, to you. Let him be with you in struggle and strife.
Let him forgive you. Let him be your Savior.
Come, let us adore him!
* This is actually two quotes from Gulag Archipelago.
** Gaudium et Spes 22.