On the Meaning of Christmas

Love Made Visible

Emmanuel, God-with-us, today I contemplate the gift of your love made visible. On Christmas, you are born anew as one of us. You clothe yourself in all the things I struggle with in my human condition. Your love embraces these fragile elements, takes them on and welcomes them with tenderness. Your love continues to do the same in our time and place. May my thanks be a life that faithfully and joyfully witnesses to your coming among us. Amen

As this Advent season closes and the joy of another Christmas celebration draws near, I am aware of the energy and connection this feast creates. Watching commercials on television, reading notifications on my smartphone, wading through thousands of newspaper ads, I am convinced that everyone is aware of the importance of Christmas. But why it is important seems to be the deeper question and that is the place where I would like to spend a little time. Just why is Christmas so important?

Salvation Army workers would tell us, with the ring of a bell, that Christmas is an important time to share our love. Retailers would tell us Christmas is important because we want a strong economy. Children would tell us Christmas is important because it is an opportunity to receive amazing gifts— toys they have been longing for. Parents would tell us Christmas is important because it is such a great time to gather family and share a loving moment together. Pastors and parish ministers would tell us Christmas is important because it offers an opportunity to reach out to help others and homeless people would tell us Christmas is important because people are more generous and life is a little kinder at that time. And you, why is Christmas important to you?

On the 8th of December this year, Pope Francis, Bishop of Rome and Holy Father of 1.2 billion Catholics, opened the Holy Door of Saint John Lateran Cathedral in Rome, initiating the Holy Father’s Year of Mercy. On Dec. 13, the following Sunday, every Cathedral in every diocese and archdiocese around the world, opened a Holy Door, to be in communion with the Church of Rome and to create a space focused on mercy, compassion and forgiveness for all people. If there are 1.2 billion Catholics in the world, then, it only follows that there are at least 1.2 billion opportunities for mercy, compassion and forgiveness to come to life around us. Is it possible that Christmas might have something to do with this invitation?

On Christmas Eve, in every diocese, archdiocese and parish in our Catholic world, along with the millions of Christian churches who are our neighbors, the Christmas season begins and people are welcomed with, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace to people of good will.” Woven into that greeting, is this year’s invitation to enter into a holy space where mercy, compassion and forgiveness are waiting for us, to bless us, to strengthen us and to bring us much needed peace.

We often talk about “gifts that keep on giving.” Is the deepest meaning of Christmas found in love that is made visible? Is the gift of mercy, compassion and forgiveness a gift you would want to receive? Is it a gift you might want to give? This Christmas we have an opportunity to look deeply into our hearts for the perfect gift to give— a gift that can keep on giving through this coming year. Who needs your love made visible through your mercy, your compassion or your forgiveness? Who do you want to gift at Christmas and in the new year? Take time to think about what matters and what is the real meaning of Christmas. Christmas is a witness of love made visible. Christmas is taking our place among billons of people and offering our small gifts of loving kindness, peace, patience and generosity. This is what is important; this is what will change our world. May this beautiful Christmas season be filled with blessings for each of you.

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