Each Christmas season, I look forward to the “Christmas Letters” section in the various publications that I receive. Many are reflections from readers that go way back, to times past. In reading them, what is most remarkable is how the memories of those times have continued to remain so vivid and alive, as though they happened yesterday.
Now if you were to categorize them, there would be three: (1) Some are letters remembering soldiers returning home from War, and the gratefulness that they—did. (2) Still other letters recount the loss of loved ones during the Christmas season and how their faith in Christ grew, thereby granting them a deeper understanding of life, death, and our eternal life to come. (3) Finally, there are letters that recall Depression-era stories of Christmas gifts that today, viewing them through our lens of material abundance, seemingly amount to nothing.
Regarding these three categories of letters, I wonder if in our time this latter category might provide us some insight into the birth of our Savior. To quote the great Dr. Suess and his Grinch:
“It came without ribbons! It came without tags!”
“It came without packages, boxes or bags!”
And after puzzling three hours, till his puzzler was sore, the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!
“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas … perhaps … means a little bit more!”
Our Christmas readings from Isaiah (62:11-12), St. Paul’s Letter to Titus (3:4-7), and the Gospel of Luke (2:15-20) scream out that the “gift” given us at Christmas does not come from a store! Rather, the “gift” given us on Christmas Day is an ancient one prophesied by the major and minor prophets.
For his part, the Prophet Isaiah announces an arrival: “The Lord has proclaimed to the end of the earth, that your salvation has arrived.” And with the Psalmist (97) singing that the “earth should rejoice,” St. Paul proceeds to provide us with a detailed understanding of just what this means—for you and me: “He saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit, which he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.”
And St. Luke? The Evangelist notes that there are comings-and-goings followed by a stillness. We are told that as the shepherds arrive, the angels depart. And that the three men from the East are left alone to gaze upon the Christ child as Mary and Joseph look lovingly upon Him. St. Luke also informs us that after the shepherds conversed for a time with the Mother of God and St. Joseph, they left for their homeland glorifying and praising God. After their departure, Mary is left with Joseph to ponder all of this in her heart. She ponders what we might describe as the “ultimate gift” and, of course, her role in it all.
In pondering this ourselves, we would be remiss in not thinking about our role, too. For our dear God has also brought each of us into this holy scene and arranged a glimpse of the manger where the infant sleeps. Upon noticing us, Mary and Joseph turn toward us and smile, but they remain silent. We also are caught up in the holy silence that permeates the scene. After a time, however, we feel a nudge at our back. It is the Communion of Saints and we become aware that others are behind us and seek the same glimpse.
And so, we move on and pass by the crib holding the Savior of the world. Christmas day comes and goes. Much time passes, too, including many Christmas days.
Despite this, may we stop to consider our daily “role” in it. Like the letter writers, may we come to see ourselves as blessed! Each day of our lives, may we come to see ourselves as “Christmas People” and that our daily routine will include counting the many blessings that come to us each day of our lives; even the blessings of suffering that grant us unique opportunities in which we might join our own suffering to Jesus Christ, who suffered for each of us.
In doing so, may we come to possess an “attitude of gratitude” where we give thanks to God for creating us and sending His Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ: to love us, teach us, and redeem us. Regarding gratitude, Blessed Solanus Casey remarked that “having gratitude is the first sign of a thinking, rational creature.” In other words, we should thank God for everything: past, present, and future.
This Christmas, with grateful hearts, may we look around and count our blessings. And may we always remember that the blessings we have received are meant to be shared!