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, however, 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: (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 days and how their faith in Christ grew, thereby allowing them a deeper understanding of both life, death, and our eternal life to come. (3) 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 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!”
Now, I begin with all of this because the readings given us this Christmas morning 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” given us at Christmas is not what our culture tells us; that is, it comes from a store!
But rather, the “gift” that is presented to us on Christmas Day is one that was prophesied by the major and minor prophets over the millennia. Similar to our letters, our readings may also be categorized.
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.
And with the Psalmist (97) proclaiming that the “earth should rejoice,” St. Paul provides us 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 these three men from the East are left alone to gaze upon the Christ child as Mary and Joseph look lovingly upon Him. Further, St. Luke informs us that after these 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. To ponder 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 has arranged for us a glimpse of the manger where the infant sleeps. Upon noticing us, Mary and Joseph turn toward us and smile; but they remain silent. And a holy silence comes upon us. But then, after a while, we feel a nudge at our back. It is the Communion of Saints. Others are behind us and they seek the same glimpse.
And so, we move on. Past the crib holding the Savior of the world. Christmas day comes and goes. Time passes, including many Christmas Days.
But hopefully, this isn’t it. Hopefully, we’ll stop to consider our daily “role” in it. Hopefully, like the letter writers, we’ll come to see ourselves as blessed! Hopefully, each day of our lives, we’ll come to see ourselves as a “Christmas People”
And also, too, that our routine will include counting our blessings that come to us each day of our lives. And yes, even the blessings of suffering that come to rest upon us, when we are granted the opportunity to join our suffering to that of Jesus Christ, who suffered for each of us.
As a blessed people, may we also have an attitude of gratitude, out of which we give thanks to God for creating us and sending among us His Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ: to love us, to teach us, and to redeem us.
Regarding gratitude, Blessed Solanus Casey once noted that “having gratitude is the first sign of a thinking, rational creature.” In other words, that we should thank our loving God for everything: past, present, and future.
This Christmas, with grateful hearts, may we look around us and count our blessings. And may we always remember that the blessings we receive are meant to be shared!