For Sunday, December 25, 2011
Christmas: The Nativity of the Lord
At the Vigil:
Acts 13:16-17, 22-25
During the Night:
During the Day:
We Americans spend a good part of December celebrating Christmas. Even though the days of Advent dominate the church calendar, for many of us Christmas celebrations may have begun a week or two ago, with holiday parties at work or in school. Radio stations have played Christmas music for a month already. All of the Christmas television specials will have already been seen by the time we get to December 25. Many of us put up Christmas decorations right after Thanksgiving, and by New Year's Day we're ready to take them down (or at least unplug the timer so that they don't go on anymore). It's not that Christmas is fleeting for us. It's just that we have celebrated so much before the actual day, that by the time the feast itself has come, we are all a bit tired of Christmas. While family visits may continue through what we call "the holidays," a so-called normal schedule typically returns within the first couple of days of January.
Other cultures traditionally celebrate Christmas in a different way. In Spain, Christmas Day is the beginning of the holidays. Children are out of school for two full weeks, not returning until after the Epiphany, which is celebrated on January 6. That is also the day gifts are exchanged, in honor of the Magi who presented gifts to the Christ Child. Parties and feasting take place in the days between Christmas and Epiphany. As with some other places, Christmas Day is not the end of the celebration in Spain. It is only the very beginning.
In the meantime, back here in our country, it is very likely that we could drive down the streets on Monday or Tuesday and already find a Christmas tree or two out on the curb, ready for pickup. Families that have planned vacations between Christmas and New Year's often get the tree out of the house before they leave.
While the season of Advent seemed to disappear for most Americans, there is a blessing in the anticipation that our own culture brings to Christmas. The run up to the feast makes it one the most important celebrations of the year. The secular calendar gives a huge nod to this religious festival (so much so that certain atheist groups try their best to quash references to "Christmas" in public discourse). Despite the consumerism that can infect the season, for many people it is still the festival of the Savior's birth, a religious feast of great importance.
I'm not suggesting that we try and change our culture of expectation in regards to Christmas. We'll never overcome the advertising budgets of retailers who push Christmas cards in October, toy sales before Thanksgiving, and door busters on Black Friday. But there is at least one way in which we should be a bit like those Spaniards, and all the others who savor Christmas for twelve days of celebration. It is with the recognition that Christmas is not over in just one day.
In the musical Mame, after the stock market crash wipes out her fortune, Auntie Mame sings, "We need a little Christmas right this very minute...for I've grown a little colder, grown a little sadder." While the song for the most part celebrates the festivities of the secular celebration, the reality for all of us Christians is that we do need a little Christmas each and every day.
The great mystery of the feast is that in the incarnation God became flesh so that humankind could be divinized--could become children of God. Whether our Christmas celebrations take place mostly before the day itself or in the weeks after are really of little consequence. What really matters is that the celebration of this great feast impels us to act like sons and daughters of God. Through the incarnation God took on our human nature in Christ and so "by this wondrous union, we, too, are made eternal" as Preface III of the Nativity of the Lord says. The way we live our lives, how we act each day, how we relate to one another, the ways we express God's love should all reveal that we are truly empowered to be sons and daughters of God.
It might be good to remind ourselves not just on this day, but in February, in March, in June, or next September, that we need a little Christmas, right this very minute. Then, even on those days, the mystery of the Incarnation holds true, and through his birth, Christ has given us the power to be sons and daughters of God who live in his love!
Good and gracious God,
out of love you sent your Son into this world
incarnate by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mother.
Shine forth the splendor of your divine light
into the darkness of our lives,
and give us the grace to show your love
to all the world.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever.
NATIONAL MIGRATION WEEK
Resources for National Migration Week, January 8–14, are now available from the USCCB. Visit their Web site at: www.usccb.org/about/migration-and-refugee-services/national-migration-week/. In addition, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee has prepared special materials for the Epiphany in both English and Spanish. They are freely available to anyone at: www.archmil.org/Resources/Epiphany2012.htm.
NATIONAL VOCATION AWARENESS WEEK
The USCCB has set National Vocation Awareness Week for January 9-14. The news release from the USCCB, along with links to resources, can be found at: www.usccb.org/news/2011/11-241.cfm.
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