Summary: For the real message of Christmas is the one we used to see plastered over every end-zone: God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten son, that we might not perish, but have everlasting life.
“He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, he gave them power to be made the sons of God, to them that believe in his name. Who are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”
These words of St. John the Evangelist immediately precede the words we pray thrice every day in the Angelus prayer: “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” They help us to understand something we may have forgotten either because we were too busy “getting ready for Christmas” or preparing our own hearts and souls to celebrate this Eucharistic sacrifice. The words we just heard from John, from God, tell us that today we are celebrating an entirely different feast than the one the world is celebrating. We are celebrating “Christ’s Mass,” the Eucharistic gift, while they are celebrating “Ex-mas” a “happy holiday” that has pretty much excluded Christ.
It reminds me of a story that has been repeated time and time again around the world, when a Catholic church has somehow fallen into the hands of either Protestant pastors or atheists. Even though the purposes of the transition are not the same, one of the first things that happens is that they tear down and usually destroy all the statues or frescoes of the saints. When they come to jackhammer the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary, they usually have also to destroy the image of the Christ Child she carries.
Secular culture, informed by what we now call “political correctness,” wants to retain the economic benefits of the Christmas shopping season, what we might call the “Black Friday” factor. But they also don’t want to offend any shoppers who might not be Catholic, or even nominally Christian. So they eliminate the Christ, both image and word, from Christmas, and usually even get rid of the “X.” I doubt they do that because they know that “X” is really the Greek letter “chi,” which is the first letter in the word “Christus,” or “Christ.” Instead they call this the “holiday season” and say “happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”
Even there, they assume some risk of religion creeping in. For the word “holiday” is simply a bending of the word “Holy Day,” as in “Holy Day of Obligation.” For a final coup-de-gras, they substitute the phrase “Seasons Greetings,” as if they are really celebrating the winter solstice, which as the darkest day of the year is not really worth celebrating at all.
One of the traditions of this time of year in our household is the annual viewing of certain movies associated with Christmas. The best of the bunch–which Frank Capra didn’t make as a Christmas film–is “It’s a Wonderful Life,” with Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed and the best Christmas Scrooge called Mr. Potter. In it, we see a man who has spent his life doing good for others and for his family learn that his life, which he despises, has actually been a miracle for his whole community, a lasting gift, especially for the poor.
But the one that has become a secular favorite is the one I want to focus on today: “A Christmas Story,” with Melinda Dillon as a long-suffering wife. Here is a look at a secular family that never prays trying to celebrate Christmas without Christ, without Mary, but with St. Nicholas as the most boorish person in the film. We see Christmas trees and department stores–remember them?–and elves and sleighs and window displays and Christmas gifts all over. But it’s really all about “getting,” rather than about the One who taught us “it is better to give than to receive,” Our Lord Jesus Christ.
The father of the family is obsessed with the Chicago baseball and football teams, with a cantankerous coal-burning stove and with developing his vocabulary of profanity. He is the very opposite of St. Joseph, the patron saint of human fatherhood, who understands, prays and gives up everything for the Christ Child. The mother is the giver of the family, but she seems more concerned with appearances than with realities in her children’s lives. And the two young boys show all the character of black holes, taking and taking but never showing the true spirit of Christmas is to be a gift for others.
For the real message of Christmas is the one we used to see plastered over every end-zone: God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten son, that we might not perish, but have everlasting life. As the Father has done for us, so we must do for others. He gave the greatest gift anyone could, the life of His Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ. And God gave it all–going all the way to Calvary from Bethlehem and Nazareth–so that we might join in His Resurrection and be united with the Trinity forever.