Pope Benedict is celebrating his first Christmas in the Kingdom. He went home to the Lord less than a year ago, on December 31, 2022. I begin this Christmas message with that somewhat jarring greeting because I believe he got it right. Pope Benedict summed Christmas up very well: “God’s sign is simplicity. God’s sign is the baby. God’s sign is that he makes himself small for us. This is how he reigns. He does not come with power and outward splendor. He comes as a baby — defenseless and in need of our help. He does not want to overwhelm us with his strength. He takes away our fear of his greatness. He asks for our love: So, he makes himself a child.”
As children, we could get so excited about Christmas and opening gifts that it would interrupt our sleep and it was all we could focus on. I hope you get the gifts you want this year. Be careful though, we are only beginning. What do I mean? In the secular world, “Christmas” seems to start in October! But truly it begins tonight. Our approach to this season as Catholics can be different, and it must be different if we are to truly benefit.
This is a season of hope. But, before we even own that, the world will toss their trees to the curb and put away their decorations. In other words, we can miss it. Remember, we are just beginning. It must be different if we are to truly benefit.
Next week is another beginning: the beginning of a new calendar year. But for us Catholics, Jan. 1 is also the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, and a day of prayer for peace. We celebrate that God has come to us, not in overwhelming power, but in the humility of a child. So, we pray that the new year might be marked by humility and peace, brought by Christ and modeled by Mary. A real beginning. It must be different if we are to truly benefit.
A week after that, the Christmas season continues as we celebrate the Solemnity of the Epiphany. “Epiphany” means “manifestation,” and it’s the celebration of Jesus manifesting his glory as Savior to all nations of the world (symbolized by the Magi). Let’s not miss Him. It must be different if we are to truly benefit.
The “official” season of Christmas doesn’t end until a week after that on the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord. As we hear the Scriptural account of the Father revealing the divinity of Jesus at his baptism, we celebrate our own baptism, our new beginning, our “new birth” in Christ and our inclusion in his body, the church. It must be different if we are to truly benefit. So, again, Merry Christmas. Begin again and be a kid again. Get so excited about Christmas that it is all you can focus on. Let it last. Help it linger. I hope you get the real gift – Him. It must be like this if we are to truly benefit.