When we expect visitors from afar, we spend a lot of time cleaning house, preparing food, arranging space for sleeping, etc. When the guests finally arrive, it is a joyful moment for us, especially because we've anticipated their coming.
The more meaning the visit has for us and the greater the effort in getting ready, the greater the resulting celebration.
If we have spent the past month truly preparing for the coming of Christ into our lives, then Christmas will bring Christ's promise of peace and joy. The Advent waiting and preparation will have helped us become more aware that Christ is not totally present in our lives yet. We will have come to realize more fully our need for God and others.
We tend to be critical of the shopping sprees and the consumerism of our society in preparation for Christmas. And in many ways, rightly so. There is no doubt that people often go beyond their means in spending.
Let's not forget that the first Christmas was a very physical, visible, touchable event. Jesus did not disdain the human condition; on the contrary, he took a body and became one of us. He lived in a human way by celebrating with others at meals, by feeding the hungry and even by attending a wedding and helping people to enjoy good wine. He expects us to celebrate on a very human and material level, as well as on a spiritual level.
Christ chose to dwell among us in a physical human body for 33 years but he also chose to continue to dwell among us through the Spirit and the Eucharist, as well as through each of us who become the face of Christ for others. This is what Christmas is about - Christ's incarnation in the world and in each of us.
Some would say this holy event is degraded by the hype and commercialism. Yes, it could be, but remember that Jesus wasn't above appearing in "unworthy" surroundings. Look at his birth in a stable and his lowly shepherd visitors. Look at his public ministry where he associates with sinners and society's rejects.
Perhaps we don't find Christ because we fail to look in the right places. Does not the fact that so many are preparing for the coming of Jesus, whether consciously or not, say something to us about the meaning of Christmas?
If we really believed, our lives would reflect our belief through reaching out to the most needy as Christ did, not only at Christmas but also throughout the year. Christmas is just the beginning of what should be for us a life-long commitment to bring Jesus to the world around us.
We buy to give to others. Just think about it! This is the only time of year that the goal of our self-centred society is to go all out to give gifts to others. During this time, many give food to the poor; children are taught to share their toys with poor children; people give of their time by visiting the sick, shut-ins, the lonely.
In general, giving highlights this time of year like no other. Even those who are not religious give generously. Isn't it marvellous that Christ's birth gives occasion to many selfless acts? Remember that the origin of gift giving at Christmas is God's gift of Jesus Christ to the human race.
Even the material rituals of Christmas can become symbols of something greater. The angels in visible, audible form told the shepherds they would find something wonderful if they would seek it. The magi saw the star and followed it, apparently without hesitation although it must have meant an arduous trip. They brought material gifts which were valuable but also symbolic of who Christ was.
Today, let us open our eyes and our ears. We see lights and decorations; we hear carols sung by people who give countless hours of their precious time to help create the joy of Christmas by singing in concerts, malls, nursing homes, etc. We see Santas who are fat and jolly, not very attractive but who symbolize the spirit of giving, the generosity which characterizes the season of Christmas.
These material things can be sacramental when we see them as outward signs of the spiritual meaning of Christmas, of the presence of God in our world. Can we not see that the practice of placing lights on home, on trees, in stores, and in every conceivable place and form are the star drawing us to Christ, the Son of God, the light of the world?
Isn't it marvellous that Christ's birth gives occasion to many selfless acts?
For us, individually, even in our busyness preparing for Christmas, we can pause and reflect, even though it be but for a moment before our weary bodies shut down for the night. God doesn't need a whole lot of time. All that is necessary is a moment to connect with God who waits patiently. Let's foster that practice and became gratefully aware of God's gifts as Jesus did when he raised his eyes to heaven before performing miracles and thanked God for hearing his prayer.
Something which I believe is more disturbing and constitutes a more serious matter is the recent trend to eliminate the idea of Christmas, of Christ, altogether and substitute the idea and word "holiday" in greetings, cards, etc.
There are a number of actions we can take to counter this. First of all, we must not be afraid to live our beliefs as Christians for others will not be offended. We can greet people with Merry Christmas instead of Happy Holidays. We can send only cards which depict some aspect of the birth of Jesus. We can refuse to use the supposedly Christmas postage stamps which do not use any picture or symbol of the true meaning of Christmas. Better yet, we can protest to the companies making and selling the cards and to the postal service for the stamps.
Although Advent is a time of waiting, of looking to the future, at Christmas we celebrate the present. Why live regretting the past or worrying about the future? We live in a world redeemed by God become one of us. We live in the presence of the light of Christ. We live in a creation given to us by the goodness of God, which we must learn to share with all.
When we have been so graced and gifted, how could we not become the light of Christ to others, enveloping the world in God's caring, peace and love?