Every 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 that the memories of those times remain vivid, as though they happened yesterday.
If you were to categorize them, there would be three: Some are letters remembering soldiers returning home from war, and the gratefulness that they—did; still others recount the loss of loved ones during the Christmas season and how their faith in Christ grew, allowing them a deeper understanding of both life, death, and our eternal life to come; and finally, there are letters that recall Depression-era stories of Christmas gifts that today, peering at them from our material abundance, seemingly amount to nothing.
Regarding these three categories of letters, I wonder if in our time this latter category might provide us insight into the birth of our Savior.
To quote the great Dr. Seuss 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!
Now I begin with all of this because the readings given us from the prophet 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” bestowed upon us at Christmas is not what our culture tells us; chiefly, that it comes from a store! Rather, the “gift” presented us on Christmas Day is one that had been prophesied by the major and minor prophets over the millennia.
Similar to our letters, our readings may also be categorized; however, rather than three, they announce and describe only one, the Ultimate Gift!
In our first reading from the Prophet Isaiah, there is the announcement of an arrival: “The Lord has proclaimed to the end of the earth, that your salvation has arrived.” After the Psalmist (97) reminds that the “earth should rejoice,” St. Paul provides a detailed understanding of 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? In this passage, there are comings-and-goings followed by a stillness. We are told that as the shepherds arrive, the angels depart, and the three men from the East are left alone to gaze upon the Christ child as Mary and Joseph look lovingly upon Him. Furthermore, we are informed that after these three shepherds conversed for a time with the Mother of God and St. Joseph, they left for their homeland glorifying and praising God. And following their departure, Mary continued to ponder all of this in her heart, to ponder the “ultimate gift” and her role in it.
Today, we would be remiss in not thinking about our role, too. For our dear Lord has also brought us into this holy scene and arranged for a glimpse of the manger in which the infant sleeps. Upon noticing us, Mary and Joseph smile and a holy silence ensues. But, after a time, we feel a nudge at our back. It is the Communion of Saints. Those behind us seek the same glimpse, too.
And so, we move on and Christmas day comes and goes. But hopefully, not our daily “role” in it. Like the letter writers, may we come to see ourselves as blessed and truly, a “Christmas People.” May our new routine include counting the blessings that come to us each day, even those of suffering that rest upon us from time to time; for, in these, we are granted the opportunity to join our suffering to Jesus Christ, who suffered for us all.
As a blessed people, may we also have an attitude of gratitude, from which we give thanks to God for creating us and sending His Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ: to love, teach, and redeem us.
Regarding gratitude, Blessed Father Solanus Casey noted that “having gratitude is the first sign of a thinking, rational creature.” In other words, we should thank our loving 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 receive are meant to be shared!