Celebrating the True Spirit of Christmas

Pictured: The adoration of the Magi. (CNS photo/Nancy Phelan Wiechec)

by Bishop Michael G. Duca

As your receive this month’s Catholic Connection, we have entered the Christian season of Advent and are waiting with hopeful expectations for the celebration of Christmas, the Nativity of the Lord. This time of year is unique because our religious observance of the seasons of Advent and Christmas correspond with a secular observance of the Christmas holiday season.

The question we are faced with is this: Which understanding of these seasons – the religious or secular – will most deeply shape our observance of Advent and Christmas? While many of us can remember when the secular and religious observances of Christmas were not that different, today, as the secular culture continues to redefine Christmas without Christ, these two observances are really two different celebrations. They may appear to be the same because the symbols are the same, but their meanings are very different. We realize this when we feel we have to fight to remind others of the real meaning of Christmas that often times gets formalized in the Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holidays battle in our public encounters.

When we see this continual secularization of Christmas in the marketplace we need to take some time and remind ourselves that we are not called to fight, but to proclaim the good news of Jesus’ Birth and rediscover the joy of Christmas within our own hearts.

We should take a prayerful breath and remember it is not the responsibility of the department stores or the malls to be the keepers of the primary heart and soul of the Christmas message. No, that is our message, our holiday and OUR MYSTERY to celebrate and proclaim. We should relax and look for the wonder, joy and mystery of Christmas where it will be truly found, in the heart of the Gospel, in our personal and shared Liturgical prayers and in the charitable heart of the Church. The Gospel is the source of the story of the Birth of Jesus and we would do well to read the story of Christ’s birth from the Bible during these Advent and Christmas seasons. What a wonderful tradition it would be to read from the Gospel of Luke the story of the Birth of Jesus before we open gifts or at the beginning of our Christmas meal.

Another way to reclaim our Christ centered celebration of the season is to remember that while the marketplace around us moves immediately to Christmas, we begin with the season of Advent because part of the story of Jesus’ birth is the biblical history that chronicles the time humanity waited and prepared for the Redeemer.  The Bible also foretells the future suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. In the Word of God we are plunged into a mystery that is only complete when we hold together the waiting of the past, the joy that is present and future hope that is promised. A meaningful way to bring this Advent celebration into the family is with the Advent wreath burning at our family meals reminding us of our waiting for the coming of our Redeemer.

Finally we recover the true meaning of Christmas in our personal prayers and in our Liturgical celebrations of the Sundays of Advent and on Christmas Day. In our Liturgical celebrations, the anticipation and joy of the mystery of Christ’s birth is shared. In our shared Mass we are inspired from the heart of the mystery of Christ’s love for us (the Eucharist) and this gives us a refreshing and deeper meaning to all the decorating, gift giving and celebrating we will do this Christmas season.

This holy inspiration keeps us focused on the real meaning of Christmas, so we do not depend on the secular world to give us the Christmas spirit. Instead, we bring the Christmas spirit to the world; we bring and proclaim Christ, who is the Light and Hope of the World. This is even more clearly manifested in the charity we show to others, especially to those in need. The freely given acts of kindness, the donations to the poor and the thoughtful gifts we give to loved ones are the clearest signs that we have the true Christmas joy in our hearts. It is the true Christmas spirit because we are moved to give to others as God gave His Son to us for our redemption.

If we look back on the best memories of Christmas, we may discover that these wonder-filled moments were created with someone faith-filled. It was their faith and underlying desire to make real the love of God, revealed in the gift of His Son that was the source of joy in those moments.  Our mistake is often to try and imitate the event and forget the deeper source of joy: the parents or friends who created a joyful memory of Christmas. The real joy of Christmas is not about finding the Christmas spirit, but about being the source of that Spirit for others.

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