“The joy of Christmas is contagious—but not primarily because of our gifts of dolls and trucks, bikes and pretty dresses, sweaters and ties. The joy of Christmas is contagious because of the spirit behind the gifts. The glory of Christmas is that a gracious God became one of us to tell us that He loves us. And, in his or her Christmas giving, the genuine believer symbolizes his or her inner desire to spread this Good News.”
(from Sunday Sermons, The Millennium Edition. CD-ROM Collection, Voicing Publications.)
In just a few days we will celebrate the Incarnation and will rejoice. For three and a half weeks we have been attempting to quietly prepare ourselves for Christmas and by now should begin to really focus on the central event: that the eternal God came into the flesh and blood of humanity. It is especially important to remember this as we are not only days away from this fact, but it is also when the frantic, hectic activity of all of our worldly preparations also kicks into high gear. Last minute gifts and trips to overly populated shops and stores. Confirming or changing dinner plans. Making travel arrangements. Cleaning, dusting, arranging. Deciding whether to stay up for midnight Mass this year or go with the family the following morning or both. (Ok, that last one is mine.)
Christmas cards portray the little Babe, the Manger, the Magi, the shepherds. Little children hopefully learn that Christmas is Jesus’ birthday. But these pieces of the story only touch the edge of the mysterious event which brings us together. The Good News is that the God of Mercy has come into the history of humanity to bring us perfect peace. For the peace of mind and heart and soul that the world cannot give, follow Jesus. And when you follow Jesus, do not be surprised to see others following you. After all, the spirit of Christmas is contagious.
Brennan Manning writes of a beautiful story told every Christmas in the forests of Provence in southern France. It’s about the four shepherds who came to Bethlehem to see the child. One brought eggs, another bread and cheese, the third brought wine. The fourth brought nothing at all. People called him L’Enchanté. The first three shepherds chatted with Mary and Joseph, commenting on how well Mary looked, how cozy was the cave and how handsomely Joseph had organized it, and what a beautiful starlit night it was. They congratulated the proud parents, presented them with their gifts and assured them that if they needed anything else, they had only to ask. Finally someone asked, “Where is L’Enchanté?” They searched high and low, up and down, inside and out. Finally, someone peeked through the blanket hung to keep out the draft, and into the creche. There, kneeling at the crib, was L’Enchanté – the Enchanted One. Like a flag or a flame taking the direction of the wind, he had taken the direction of love. Throughout the entire night, he stayed in adoration, whispering, “Jesu, Jesu, Jesu – Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.”
As Christmas approaches, an honest question is: do I want to be or merely appear to be a Christian? In the story above, the Enchanted One is driven by one pure passion. His singlemindedness leads him to a realistic conclusion: anything connected with Christmas that is not centered in Christ Jesus – tree, ornaments, turkey dinner, exchange of gifts, even worship itself – is empty gesturing. Blessed are they who see God in all the trappings of this time of year and yet experience a joy that the world does not understand. But take heart, their joy shall be contagious!