15 Dec The Real Meaning of Christmas
What is the real meaning of Christmas? Why do we celebrate it and how can we make it a meaningful experience?
Christmas – Of all the seasons, there seems to be none as festive, enchanting and deeply meaningful as this feast, celebrated during this beautiful time of the year. Tucked deep into the last month of the Gregorian calendar, with long official holidays to prepare and celebrate, people know that it is a time to love, intended to unwind and bond together with family and friends, during one of the most coziest times of the year!
This is God’s intended way for us to conclude each year and journey into the next …. it is truly His magical gift to all of us.
“The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” – Mathew 4:16
The birth of Jesus is a time to rejoice because we celebrate the light entering our world and ever since, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never been able to extinguish it.” – John 1:5
While this season is about the birth of our Saviour, our Victor who snatched us from eternal death and darkness, it is also a celebration of our spiritual birthday, as we remember about our own call to be “born again” into the Holy Spirit (ref John 3:7).
For, as the years go by, by constantly endeavoring to yield more and more to the Holy Spirit, we free our souls, causing it to emerge and slowly leave behind the dictates of the flesh. Thus, we move deeper into transitioning from this earthly garment and enter into the spiritual world above, i.e. eternal life.
Additionally, besides being called to victoriously overcome the world, we are also referred to as “the Light of the World” by our Lord. Therefore “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16). Keeping this in mind, we need to reflect as to how we can truly prepare our hearts to receive our infant Saviour.
What is God’s way of preparing for a feast and celebrating?
- Prayer and offering of good works/charity: “Also on the day of the first fruits, when you present a new grain offering to the Lord in your Feast of Weeks…” Numbers 28:26
- Reconciliation: “… For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law. Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:9-10
- Sharing: “If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbour…” (Feast of Passover) Exodus 12:4
- Dining: “On this mountain the LORD of Hosts will prepare a banquet for all the peoples, a feast of aged wine, of choice meat, of finely aged wine.” Isaiah 25:6
- Merriment: “Then the virgin will rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old, together, for I will turn their mourning into joy…” Jeremiah 31:3
God’s feasting is more detailed and complete, as compared to ours because it encompasses feasting from the inside out. It provides for the soul’s enrichment and then for the physical body’s enjoyment.
There are several feasts in the Catholic Church, but for the two greatest feasts of Christmas and Easter, in her wisdom, the Church, has deliberately given us a time to prepare for them i.e. Advent and Lent.
Two phases of preparation:
- The first is to do with cleansing of the soul – being reconciled to God and man:
“And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.’ (Mark 1:4)
- Steep deeper in prayer, to establish connection with God and give Glory to Him.
- Reflect upon areas where we did not walk in God’s ways and be reconciled with Him.
- We need to pardon those who offended us.
- We should likewise seek pardon from those we offended.
- “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance…”, “What should we do then?” the crowd asked. John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” (Luke 3:8,10-11)
The second, is to glorify our thirsty souls with righteous acts, loving works and inculcate virtues, because the purpose behind celebrating Christmas, is not only to remember that God opened the way to heaven, but more importantly we have to work towards ultimately reaching there.
For example: If one were to ‘prepare’ for a promotion at work, one would work harder in all areas directly and even indirectly connected to their job role. Through this preparation, one can expect the boss to grant that well deserved promotion, thereby giving you the opportunity to celebrate your upgraded career and rise to power.
In the same way, Catholic spiritual feasts and celebrations, need to firstly start with working hard towards the glory of the soul; not only its redemption from sin, but the greater essence, is the transformation of our fallen sinful nature to the glorious Divine nature of Christ.
A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher -Luke 6:40
Preparation of our Cribs
All of us love Christmas cribs and each desire to have our personal one at home, decorating it in such a realistic way, as to mime that special event, on that fascinating Christmas night!
While it reminds us of Jesus’ birth, the crib takes us back to those ancient times and the epitome of simplicity, into which the Lord wished to be born. It is also in these very settings, that the Queen of queens (the most esteemed person), attended and celebrated Christmas, with her baby King.
Let us therefore take the crib to a deeper level, than what we are usually accustomed to and rejoice not only in the visual simplicity of the crib, but being a part of it, so that the Christmas star will shine through our souls. Embrace the crib’s simplicity; deliberately opt for simpler Christmas attire (for Jesus too, was wrapped in swaddling clothes) and use the saved money, to help clothe a poorer person for Christmas.
Opt out of hosting fancy Christmas parties but deliberately keep it simple and let what you save, be used to help the poor and underprivileged, to also feast during Christmas. In this way while enjoying festivities with friends, you are also nourishing your soul with Divine joy.
Remember who God favoured as the first invitees, on that sacred night to witness Christ’s birth – poor shepherds! And being the simplest of all in their most humble garb, they received their invites from breathtakingly glorious beings – the angels.
If these shepherds are “rich” in the sight of God and favoured to be invited to His birthday celebration, let us also follow the Divine Trend!
Let this advent and Christmas season, find us doing similar things like those angels on that faithful night. Imitating them, we can also accommodate into our schedule, volunteer work at shelters, soup kitchens, prisons, orphanages and old age homes. In doing so, you will invite God’s “favoured” guests, to a Christmas experience – with your very soul as the crib, where the infant Christ is thriving with joy, shining forth His love from your heart. You will bring delight and cheer to all the ‘shepherds’ you have ‘heralded’ the “good news” to, bringing them to experience the tangible love of Christ.
As we install the physical crib in our homes, let us remember its main characters – Mary, Joseph and Jesus – they glowed with grace because they constantly walked in God’s precepts.
Since Advent is the beginning of the Catholic New year, how about making a few joyous and easy resolutions? Christmas may come and go, but good resolutions will develop virtues, that will stay throughout. Aiming for simple and small resolutions, but being consistent, will lead to victories.
- Thankfulness: If it is not, then make it part of our habit to sincerely thank God daily for all the bounties (many of which we think are solely due to our own efforts alone) and also thank Him for the most priceless gifts – family, health and shelter.
- Love: Deliberately keeping our temper in check, at the one person we tend to hurt the most.
- Family unity: If we spend too much time with friends and less with family, resolve to bond with them and make it your responsibility to bring about a happy atmosphere, by spending quality time with them on a weekly basis.
- Help: Take up one small task at home (permanently), to give a big helping hand to the one most in need.
Instilling the inner joy of Christmas in the future generation, with Christmas trees, stockings and eats:
Let us responsibly nurture our children’s soul, amidst preparation for the material joys of Christmas.
- Christmas tree ornaments: Most ornaments are objects such as snowmen, balls, candies, gift boxes, etc – these generally relate to the physical aspects of the celebration. While they are beautiful to include, let us enjoy some fun filled spiritual craft time with kids, making homemade ornaments that have a deeper meaning. Create hanging ornaments for the tree, to do with the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
Using materials (e.g. coloured foam sheets) cut out and label shapes such as, a sand timer (for patience), embrace icon (forgiveness), cross (faithfulness), smiley (generosity), the dove (for peace), a heart (for kindness), angels (for prayer), etc and teach them the meaning behind these ornaments. Together let your children be guided by you to use their talents, to create these ornaments that illustrate virtues (or fruit of the Spirit). This will bring about the deeper meaning of a Christmas ritual, of decorating a tree. It will serve as a beautiful reminder, create a lovely childhood memory and now or at a later date, help them reflect on the importance of these virtues and the need for them, realizing the true meaning of their faith.
God Himself delights in these things, as given in His Word:
“Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as SYMBOLS on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. TEACH them to YOUR CHILDREN, talking about them…..Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates” – Deuteronomy 11:18–20
- Stockings: While stockings are loaded with little gifts, encourage your child to make their own sacrifice by saving a little to buy a gift for a needy child this Christmas. Ask them to offer a tiny prayer daily for that child, whom they will finally present the gift to (on Christmas day).
- Cookies/sweets: Work with kids to make small parcels of Christmas cookies/sweets that they may present with you, upon volunteer visits to the homeless, sick, aged, etc.
Christmas should be celebrated from the inside out, in the Divine way God intended.
As the three kings visited the babe, in miming the real atmosphere of the crib, what joy we will receive when we too will be visited by the King of kings (the main birthday celebrant), this festive season and truly enjoy the real Christmas experience!