Don't lose sight of Christmas' true meaning

Catholic Courier    |    12.01.2010
Category: From the Bishop


All of us I think have enjoyed again and again the Christmas classic "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," which was first broadcast nearly 45 years ago and is still a holiday TV staple.

Toward the end of this wonderful story by Dr. Seuss, after the "mean one, Mr. Grinch" has stolen just about every possible sign of Christmas from the Whos down in Whoville, he gleefully sits atop his mountaintop anxiously awaiting the angst that a Christmas-less Christmas morning will bring.

Instead, the narrator tells us, the Grinch gets a very big surprise. The sounds of the Whos’ voices rise to his ears. "This sound wasn’t sad. Why … this sound sounded glad! Every Who down in Whoville, the tall and the small, was singing, without any presents at all! He hadn’t stopped Christmas from coming. It came! Somehow or other, it came just the same. … It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?"

Fantasy aside, I wonder how any of us would react to waking up to a barren Christmas, one without decorations, a brightly lit tree, sans all the glitter and mounds of presents we have come to associate with a good Christmas Day.

Optimist that I am, I think most of us would shuck off our shock and react like the Whos down in Whoville. While many of us, myself included, take part in all the glittering of Christmas that has been going on for decades, I do think that most of us truly understand that its true meaning does not depend on and rises well above all attempts to commercialize it.

What it means, of course, is that our loving God gave us the greatest gift possible: his own Son. God gave us a savior, the Prince of Peace, the promise of eternal life -- and all the wisdom, peace and comfort the little child Jesus would grow to give us as a very way of life and a pathway to God.

This gift that changed humanity forever came to a couple without much means, without the ability to lavish presents on anyone, in the form of an innocent child born in a simple manger full of animals and straw. All they really had was each other and a love that gave them the drive and confidence to endure all, and to do God’s will.

There is a lesson for us all in this. God could just as well have chosen a rich woman to give birth to Jesus, but he chose a poor one. God could just have easily ensured Jesus was born in the finest beds surrounded by silk sheets and servants. God could just as easily have chosen to make life easy for Mary and Joseph, but instead they faced many obstacles and hardships before and after Jesus was born.

I think the lesson of this first Christmas is that the trappings of this world do not really matter in the end. Yes, we are blessed to have them and should be grateful for every comfort and for the security they bring, but none of that matters in the larger scheme of things.

Presents are wonderful, of course, and we do well to make others happy by giving them, but Christmas and what it means for us would be as powerful and as life-changing without them. Lights, tinsel, candy canes and all those things that have come to symbolize this magical holiday are fun and do make Christmas special. There is nothing wrong with that.

But would you agree that what really matters -- 2,000 years ago and today -- is the spirit of love that is Christmas -- God’s love for us and our love for each other? Just ask any modern-day family struggling to make ends meet and who survive on little but the warmth of their love for each other.

Dr. Seuss said it very well: "Christmas Day will always be, just as long as we have we."

Peace to all, and Merry Christmas!

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