The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord. (Luke 2: 10-11)
From the time of the angel’s wonderful, world-changing announcement to the shepherds, the story of Christmas has been a source of great joy. “Joy to the world, the Lord is come,” the famous hymn proclaims. And over the centuries since Christ’s birth that joy has been expressed in many different ways, in many different cultures and for many different reasons.
Even the grumpiest of alienated atheists can find reason to rejoice in the Christmas Season. Perhaps it’s the thought of giving and receiving gifts; or the beautifully decorated homes and Christmas trees – or “holiday trees” if they insist; or the festive parties with family and friends; or the prospect of a few extra days off from work. You see, even pagans can celebrate Christmas all the while denying the very reason for the season.
And on another, slightly higher level, secular humanists might also rejoice in the celebration of Christmas without having to acknowledge its religious meaning. The common virtues and practices associated with Christmas are appealing to all – peace on earth, goodwill to men, charity to the needy, gifts to poor children. Nothing wrong with any of these things, and, in their own unspoken way they’re natural tokens of God’s love made manifest in the Christ-child. The oft-invoked “spirit of Christmas” is non-denominational.
But, truth be told, it’s only through the eyes of faith that Christmas finds its true meaning and the real reason for Christmas joy becomes evident. And our faith tells us that Jesus Christ was born to redeem mankind, to save us from our sins, and to open up for us the doors of eternal life. Now there’s a reason to be joyful!
Recall that the name “Jesus” means “Savior.” Pope Benedict, in his excellent little book about the infancy narratives, points out that in both cases in which the birth of Jesus was revealed – the appearance of the Angel Gabriel to Mary in the Annunciation and the message of the angel in Joseph’s dream – the name “Jesus” was assigned to the child to be born because “He will save His people from their sins.” (Mt 1: 21)
Our Holy Father, adding some Biblical context to the naming of Jesus, points to the somewhat mysterious name of God revealed to Moses on Mount Horeb: “I am who am.” (Ex 3:14) The Pope explains, that in announcing the name of God’s Son “the incomplete name from Sinai is finally spoken. The God who is, is the saving God, now present. The revelation of God’s name, which began in the burning bush, comes to completion in Jesus.” (p. 30)
What all this means, therefore, is that the ultimate reason for Christmas joy is spiritual! We are joyful at the birth of Christ because Jesus saves us from our sins and overcomes our natural estrangement from God. We are joyful, not only because Jesus makes this world a better and brighter place to live if we follow His teachings, but moreover because He opens up for us the doors to the next world, the one that lasts forever. We are joyful because it is only in the birth of Jesus, and His subsequent, life, death and resurrection that we dare to dream of and speak of eternal life!
I don’t know about you, but in my own life I’ve committed lots of sins. There have been many occasions on which I’ve disobeyed the Ten Commandments, failed to live-up to the demands of my vocation, hurt other people and offended Almighty God. I really need a Redeemer! I know that I cannot save myself and without Jesus I would be doomed to the misery of hell – excruciating torment, total despair, and final separation from God – forever. That’s the reason I really find comfort and joy in the birth of Jesus. He came for me, to save me from my sins, and to give me at least the hope of redemption.
The rousing Christmas carol, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” proclaims that the heavenly Prince of Peace was “Born that man no more may die. Born to raise the sons of earth; born to give them second birth.”
So, dear reader, I hope you will really enjoy the celebration of Christmas with its parties, gifts and festive displays. Enjoy the special time with your family and friends. Be inspired by the expressions of goodwill and charity that take place this time of the year. But most of all, don’t forget the real reason for Christmas joy. Jesus was born for you, to save you from your sins and to give you the hope of living forever!
All the members of the Church in the Diocese of Providence will be in my thoughts and prayers in a very special way throughout the Christmas Season. Thank you so much for your friendship, cooperation, support and prayers. And as you stop by the Nativity scene and greet the Holy Family in this holy season, please say a little prayer for me as well. A very merry Christmas and a happy New Year to all!