Now that Christmas is here it is worth reflecting on what it does not mean. It does not mean stress, dealing with a thousand inter-family agendas and trying to tread your way through the minefield of difficult personalities who cannot resist bickering or imposing their own wills and plans because they are absolutely right or needy to the point of being demanding, regardless of the welfare of your own family.
It does not mean stress – or should not – trying to deal with massive pre- and post-Christmas shopping crowds in a time of pandemic to give people gifts which assure them that you love them sufficiently. It should not mean labouring like Trojans just to make it to that slightly longer liturgy on Christmas Day after which you collapse as you throw a feast for family that leaves you feeling not hungry for two days afterwards. If that is what Christmas is for you, then get a life – a real Christian and Christmas life.
Stop it. Just stop it. The only reason you are experiencing such things is precisely because of this birth. But if you are experiencing Christmas this way you are very likely missing the whole point of His birth. Very likely, in your mind, the birth of Jesus is something more or less equivalent to the birth of any other baby – nice for its family, sweet in its own way, cute – and very distant , even remote, from your life.
Sadly, this is probably, from what we can tell of official figures, the way many Australians who describe themselves as Catholics, or members of this baby’s community which we call the Catholic Church, think Christmas is. If so, then this is one occasion on which the exclamation ‘Bah! Humbug!’ is not just entirely applicable, it is entirely appropriate.
If this is Christmas for anyone at all – Catholic or otherwise – then the unpleasant truth which must be stated openly is that many people have become Scrooges in their own lives with out realising it – not as indifferent to the welfare of others as the original Scrooge, not so spectacularly miserly, not so obviously uncharitable in their hearts but still, nevertheless, focused on themselves and mere convention. If that is Christmas faith – then who wants it? And who on earth would be impressed by it? This is the sort of Christmas that has become distorted, a popular fable twisted to suit the material agendas of commerce and business and mere bourgeois conventionality.
If this message is coming too late for this year, even if part of it resonates with you, stop and think about next year. But thinking about next year, of course, starts with thinking about now. We can only change by beginning, but, needy as we always are, it is so easy to procrastinate and then eventually slide into doing and achieving nothing. So how do we begin? It’s so simple. We can begin by reflecting on what Christmas really means, by trying to penetrate to why it is important for you – because either it is or it is completely irrelevant to your life, your children, your hopes and the meaning of why you exist.
The choice is up to you. But if you want to find why this birth amid poverty is so important, why it changes everything, then that means setting aside time, which is both a gift and a necessity, to begin divesting ourselves of our Hollywood way of thinking about this astonishing moment when God chooses to become exactly like you. We will not say how to do this or even set out a program. Each week’s edition of The Catholic Weekly is full of contributions from the best writers exploring in a thousand different ways what this all means.
Perhaps you might start by reflecting on how the greatest things begin in darkness. In the entire history of the human race God Himself comes stealing at last into human life unseen by almost anyone except His human parents. This birth takes place in silence, in a cattle stall in the middle of the night. Is there a lamp or a candle to dispel the darkness? Quite possibly not. Only the stars are scattered across the night sky and the vastness of the universe as if some deranged painter has hurled handfuls of gold dust across a giant ink-black canvas in one wild act of creation. You may feel as if this birth is not as accessible as the things you access with remote controls and web browsers, but stop and remember: this baby has put those stars in their places and set the constellations wheeling in the heavens above.
If you feel overwhelmed by Australian Christmas, turn away instead to God Christmas. Begin planning how you and your family can bring others to true Christmas next year by having Christmas more on your terms, prayerful terms, the terms of Joseph and the most beautiful woman ever created whose heart is already full of love for her Son, her husband – and you. After all, Her Son made you His brother or sister, made His Father your Father, gave you His Spirit – and has made her your Mother. He loves you.