FIGURE OF SPEECH

Dr. Gerry Turcotte

December 2, 2013

"And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death."

Philippians 2.8


It is that time of year when we begin to plan, personally and institutionally, for the holidays. This is the time when families gather, but also when workplaces bring their people together to thank them for all they've done. It is a time of remembrance and celebration.

It is also quite possibly the most commercialized time of the year, where supermarket shelves groan with toys and decorations. The newspapers are already thick with flyers announcing extraordinary sales and encouraging over-consumption; urging us to focus on material things at all costs.

Many, alas, will respond. Who was it that said: "I once bought my kids a set of batteries for Christmas with a note saying 'toys not included'"?

WHY WAS HE BORN?

It was Benjamin Franklin who commented wryly, "How many observe Christ's birthday! How few, his precepts!"

But the commercialization of Christmas need not win out. At St. Mary's, even though students are completing crucial exams and essays, they are also preparing to travel in support of local charities.

This year alone, more than 70 students are registered to lend a hand at the annual Children's Christmas party at Our Lady Queen of Peace Ranch. That's 10 per cent of our student population assisting for a single event.

Others participate in voluntary tutoring for disadvantaged learners, or help out at local charities, including at homes for the aged.

For many, the urge to give back is always especially strong at this sacred time of year, when the message and legacy of Jesus achieve particular emphasis.

The life of Christ is best understood as a narrative about gifts: the gift of love, of joy, of salvation.

It is also a purely unselfish gift - one that is delivered with no expectation of reciprocity - only promise. This hope, of course, is represented in the miracle birth that so many celebrate at Christmas.

GRITTY PILGRIMAGE

A beautiful image in the Saint John's Bible opens the Gospel of Luke. In it, we witness a symbol of the divine as transcendent light. And while that may be accurate to reflect Christ's divinity, we must also equally draw inspiration from his humanity, one that is anchored in a humble birth, an unadorned life, a gritty pilgrimage.

His journey embraced the poor, the sick, the elderly. He communed with the lost, the found, the sinners and the saints.

One suspects he would have loved Pope Francis and his humble approach to the papacy.

BE ALERT, INVOLVED

All this is to say that while the divine inspires, the human reminds us that we too must do our part. The Christian calling is not one that asks us to be pious and removed, but alert and involved. As Dickens once said: "I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year."

(Dr. Gerry Turcotte is president, St. Mary's University College in Calgary.)