Summary: The meaning of Christmas is when we go beyond the celebration to share with the hungry and the needy.
At Christmas time, in many places children act out the Christmas story. In the parish where I work, it is like a street theatre. If you are travelling by the road, you may see Joseph and Mary walking on the road in search of an inn.
Years ago in one place, there was a Christmas play like this organised by children. It was the dream of every child to be part of this play. There was a small boy named Hans. He also was anxiously waiting for a part in the play. The role he got was that of one of the inn keepers. And he had only one piece of dialogue. When Joseph approaches him on Christmas night, he should tell him, “Sorry, there is no place in the inn” and then close the door.
It was Christmas eve and the whole village was there to witness the play. Soon it was Hans’ scene. Joseph knocked at the door and Hans opened it. Joseph told him, “I am travelling with my wife who is pregnant and about to deliver. We can’t find any place to stay. We are dying of cold. Could you give us some place to stay?” Hans said, “Sorry, there is no place in the inn”. Dejected, Joseph turned back. Hans looked at the figure of Mary standing near the donkey. The dim lights, the mist and suddenly he did not know what he was doing. He opened the door wide and said, “No, please don’t go away. Come back. There is place inside”.
The play was a failure. Or was it? At least that was what some people thought. But many others felt that it was a great success. By his mistake, Hans taught everybody a big lesson. The lesson was the meaning of Christmas.
When we are busy preparing for Christmas, often we don’t realise the true meaning of Christmas. We are so caught up by the external preparations that we overlook the spiritual dimension of Christmas. Santa Claus becomes the hero, child Jesus is forgotten. I remember a small conversation I overheard while I was walking on a busy road in Christmas season. Two boys, obviously non-Christians, were walking by a shop selling Christmas goodies. The shop had a big statue of Santa Claus at the entrance. One of the boys looked at the picture and pointing to that told the other, “Look, that is the God of the Christians”. This is the tragedy of our Christmas preparations. Very often we too think that the meaning of Christmas is get-together and parties. We fail to go beyond that.
Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Why Bethlehem? What was the significance of Bethlehem? Bethlehem was a small place, insignificant compared to Jerusalem and other cities. But it was significant for God. For God to come to the earth as one of the least, ordinary humans, this was the most suitable place. It has got another significance. The meaning of the name Bethlehem is “House of Bread”. What better place to be the birthplace of the one who came to feed the hungry, and to give his own body as bread?
If this is the significance of Bethlehem, then it is also the significance of Christmas. Jesus was born as a refugee, away from the land of his parents, under the domination of a foreign power. So today let us think about the refugees. He had no proper place to be born. Let us remember millions who have no house over their heads. Christmas is their celebration. Is it not a pity that most of such people are not in a position to celebrate this feast?