As Christmas comes around, we seem to wake up from our slumber. Plans are made at home, in the Somudai (community), in the parish, and by everyone: “I have to paint the house and get it cleaned, I must see to my Christmas dress, I must put up decorations in the house, I have to write Christmas Cards, I must make a crib at the Church, I have to organize carols singing (Christmas carols), etc.” The list of such other activities is endless.
Unfortunately, with these kinds of activities, when Christmas season is over, the spirit of Christmas is also over. And this is becoming more common year after year… Did God become Emmanuel for this? The question we all need to ask ourselves is ‘Can we start dreaming of a Christmas with a difference? Or a Christmas filled with the spirit of the first Christmas?’ How can we make a change to welcome the baby Jesus with the same joy of the first Christmas?
1. From activities-oriented to relationships-oriented:
We hear some of our youth say “we must organize a week-long celebration of fun and frolic, otherwise it will be a lousy Christmas.” Could we pose a question: Do we need activities to make it feel/look like Christmas? Or should we ask ourselves whether Christmas activities should help us build better relationships? The ‘activity’ of God becoming Incarnate was to enter into a deeper relationship with His human creatures so that bridges of relationships could be built between Him and man! Will all our Christmas activities help us open ourselves a bit more to others, so that we can have a better chance to interact with one another; getting out of our self-centered comfort zone? Will our activities help us make room for others in our life schedule? Will our activities help us to stop a while and look into the eyes of each other and say ‘you are wonderful, I love you’? Will our activities help us to expand our hearts to reach out in love and dialogue with others?
FOR REFLECTION: God’s action in the history of the world was a salvific encounter with mankind. How can we be more relationship-oriented in our activities, especially in the Advent and Christmas Seasons?
2. From fun-oriented to fellowship-oriented:
Perhaps we expect too much from Christmas – we try to squeeze out every inch of fun and frolic from it – dances, parties, lavish dinners, over-drinking. The first Christmas brought together in fellowship the angels, the shepherds, and the magi. The angels could sing “Peace on earth to men of goodwill.” Instead of focusing too much on Self, could our Christmas pave the way for more togetherness, for more being in the family, in the Somudai/Ward - rather than being away from home or our ward, enjoying all by ourselves? Could we get ourselves involved in our parishes and have genuine and true fun with our fellow-neighbours? During this season, could we spend more time in our homes celebrating being present with our parents, children, and siblings? Could we go and visit the poor/underprivileged in our communities and be with them and affirm them as our brothers and sisters and build bridges of concerns?
FOR REFLECTION: Fun with others is better than fun at the cost of others. Fun with others is the fruit of true peace with others.
3. From competition to participation:
As Christmas is around the corner, we hear about lots of carols, the best parts in one act plays and nativity scenes, the presents we are giving, and having the best decorations… Do these competitions make the world a better place? Isn’t it that people more often than not become embittered and resentful, if not divided, after shopping at the crowded stores or getting the best part in the Christmas play? Does this enhance/tarnish the spirit of the season? Jesus became man not to compete with God, or show Himself greater than Him, but took the form of a child, and became a servant so that both could be partners in building a new civilization of love. During this Christmas, rather than creating a competitive spirit, could there be a more emphasis on participation of talent by working as a team and joining hands with one another in different activities to put up something wonderful? Could we start to experience the joy in ‘presenting’ to others than in competing with others. Could we participate in all the Christmas happenings of the parish without having the need to outshine others?
FOR REFLECTION: Competition brings out the best in some and the worst in many. Participation brings out the good in all and the best in many.
4. From having to being:
The TVs and the shop windows are there to entice our appetite, showing us the latest ready-made Christmas trees, stars, tinsels and decorations, the latest goodies – without which, the same TV will tell us, it is not Christmas. Sometimes there is over-spending on things that we really don’t need: we buy for the sake of buying without realizing that the more we buy, the emptier we become. Jesus was born in a borrowed stable and was wrapped in swaddling clothes – not with the latest fashionable clothes. Could we exercise a little moderation/restraint by lowering our budget on commercial things/items/decorations and allotting a bigger budget to help our needy brothers and sisters? This year, could we sponsor a poor family for this Christmas?
FOR REFLECTION: Investing energy in personalizing and socializing is better than acquiring and owning. There is more to life in being with people than being busy in collecting things for the sake of people.
5. From presents to presence:
The season of Christmas is the season awaited eagerly by all shopkeepers and department stores – it is the season for big, big business: gifts are purchased without counting the cost, and are exchanged everywhere. Gifts, in the bargain, have become big business and have unduly occupied the centre-stage of Christmas. Gifts seem to have lost their true meaning, they have become a social formality and they have become mere material objects; so much so that gifts are measured in terms of price and money. Gifts have also acquired almost a dimension of a “right” (I should get a gift) or contract (I give gifts so that I may get a gift in return). At Christmas, God sent His Son as his own gift and as a sign of His unconditional, bountiful, gratuitous love for us. Looking at Jesus, we see tangibly and visibly the loving heart of God. Instead of mere gifts, could we give the gift of ourselves to others? As we give even a simple gift, could we put in a little more love, a little more appreciation into it? Could we restore back the original meaning of gifts by giving primarily ourselves to others through these objects - without expecting anything in return? Could we invite any poor child from our ward (or community) and have them at our Christmas table?
FOR REFLECTION: Gifts without the giver is an impersonal transaction. Let us strive to be personal, gifting ourselves through our gifts.
6. From commercialization to Incarnation:
A Christmas card that has the postal seal “Happy Holidays” just reached here. Christmas is becoming subtly commercialized and secular. It is being equated to a mere holiday season with fun and merriment. It is becoming another social feast. But what is the real core of Christmas? Christmas (Christ’s Mass) is the celebration of Emmanuel “God with us”. The joy experienced at Christmas derives from the fact that God became Incarnate so that we may experience the fullness of life (Jn. 10:10). Sometimes our decorations are so commercialized/secular that there seems to be no flavor of Christmas at all. It has become another social event. Can we pause for a while and affirm the pivotal point on which hangs the whole season – “Jesus, the Christ”? Can we make Jesus’ presence more experiential in this Christmas in all we do or say?
FOR REFLECTION: Christmas is celebration of the Emmanuel – "God with us". Let us put Christ back in all celebrations during the Christmas Season.
7. From indulgence to contemplation:
As the Christmas rhythm begins, we are pulled into so many directions and get ourselves drowned in countless activities. Our minds get distracted and our energies become drained. In short, we seem to be lost in the darkness of being extremely busy; thinking that we are celebrating Christmas. But what type of God do we want to discover and celebrate at Christmas? Is it a God of activities, or a God of profound silence from whom emanates a powerful energy? In fact, Jesus, in the stillness of night, inaugurated the first Christmas – the mystery of God clothing Himself with our human flesh. Isn’t it an indescribable mystery before which human beings can stand only in awe and reverence? During this Christmas, could we make some time to contemplate on the mystery of God made man? Could we stop for some silent moments in prayer and relish the mystery of the season? Could we meditate for some moments on this mystery, and allow Jesus to touch the core of our being with His peace?
FOR REFLECTION: Being with Christ is more enriching than running about doing Christmas activities. Minutes spent in contemplation of the Divine in the manger, can yield abundant fruit to our hours of planning activities for Christmas week.
Wishing you all a Holy Christmas with a Difference!
Fr. Joseph Rowland-Salema
St. Pius X Pastoral Institute
Old Goa, India