image is Mt. Taranaki (Mt. Egmont) New Zealand
The cultural celebration of Christmas places much energy and focus in the frenzied search for the right gifts for our family members and friends. For many, Christmas comes with the unwrapping of gifts early in the morning — and if we’re lucky, we even get to have a “White Christmas” with glistening snowflakes covering our sidewalks and roadways.
While we may feel critical and uneasy about this overly idealized and commercialized sense of Christmas, we can recognize the spirit of generosity that permeates it. We can come together to enjoy carols, hot cocoa, and the jolly disposition that permeates our social interactions. The Grinch shows us that no number of disgruntled temperaments can ever really dispel the beauty and splendor of Christmas.
Beyond this cultural sentimentality, we can point also to the religious expression that often surrounds this blessed holiday. For Christians, this joyful moment brings an opportunity for deeper spiritual reflection. As the Catholic liturgical calendar makes clear, the Christmas season goes beyond the Vigil or Midnight Mass. Between the Nativity of the Lord and the Baptism of the Lord, we find ourselves celebrating the vocation of family with the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus; motherhood with the Solemnity of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God; and universal solidarity with the Epiphany of the Lord.
So, before reaching Ordinary Time with the completion of the Baptism of the Lord, we have time and a few religious commemorations to deepen our reflection and help us appreciate the spiritual graces of this joyful season: “All these took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name Him Emmanuel, which means ‘God with us’” (Matthew 1:18-25). And, as St. Paul reminds us, our common journey of faith involves God’s constant initiative, fidelity and commitment to exalting and elevating us to be His own (Acts 13:16-25).
How we fulfill and live up to this elevated dignity in our daily toils will be connected to our ongoing need for conversion. The fact that God chooses to be and remain with us throughout signals the giftedness in our lives. Indeed, Emmanuel is the realized promise that even as we ready ourselves to enter the ordinary rhythm and humdrum of life, the extraordinary mystery of the Incarnation is never far. “The Lord has made His salvation known: in the sight of the nations, He has revealed His justice. He has remembered His faithfulness toward the house of Israel” (Psalm 98:1-6).
God’s nearness to each one of us in Jesus Christ, then, remains true for all ages, bringing us closer to the source of life and light. “All things came to be through Him, and without Him nothing came to be. What came to be through Him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…And the Word became flesh and made a dwelling among us, and we saw His glory” (Matthew 1: 1-5, 9-14).
As we continue to unwrap the many external gifts that the Christmas season bring to us, let us also hold fast to this elevated dignity that is ours in Christ. And together, let us approach and dwell more closely to the source of life and light, raising one another up in community and mutual service.
F. Javier Orozco
First published December 22, 2021 in the St. Louis Review