What ought we to derive from Christmas?
We say we're celebrating the birth of Jesus each year -- but are we? Although we complain about the busyness and expense we experience each Christmas, we do little to change the situation. But we could!
Recently I thought about what I cherished most about Christmas. What stood out?
I recently spoke with an acquaintance, Ray, discussing whether we were ready for Christmas. He stated that this year he put his holiday lights up before Thanksgiving. He thought he'd gotten a head start decorating and preparing for Christmas.
I replied that I, too, had attempted to gain an early start. I'd begun shopping and addressing Christmas cards earlier than usual this year, hoping I avoid a last-minute rush. But, typically, unforeseen situations arose, and again I felt I was behind.
I remarked to Ray, "I can't believe God intended we overextend our energies, money and time to the degree we do, to celebrate the birth of Jesus. All the gift buying, unnecessary decorating and cooking divert people from worshipping and appreciating the genuine purpose of the season."
Ray said he also placed too much emphasis on unnecessary Christmas preparations, "but my father, who has Alzheimer's disease, opened my eyes awhile back when he asked what gift he had given me last Christmas." Ray told him he didn't remember. His dad then asked "Do you recall who was here at Christmas dinner last year?" Ray said, "I definitely remembered who was present at the family gathering. So did dad, although he had forgotten what I had given him as a gift last year, just as I had."
I tried to recall what present meant the most to me last Christmas. Thinking back, I discovered I scarcely considered the gifts I'd received, but I delighted in the memory of people present -- and felt pangs of loss for ones absent.
I then thought back to the time Jesus was born. There was certainly no pomp and circumstance, feasts, decorations and lights. Nevertheless the simple birth of that baby, Jesus, inspired shepherds and wise men from afar to bring gifts commemorating his birth and to show homage to the promised savior.
The why of Christmas isn't to receive gifts, decorate, party and overeat -- rather it's to receive the love of God and share that good news with others. The gift we need to treasure most is the knowledge we can become children of God through Jesus.
The Gospel of John tells us "To all who received him and believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God" (1:12). That's the present I'll remember most. Could there possibly be a greater Christmas gift?
Ellen Shuck is director of religious education at St. Mary's Cathedral Parish.