Why we have Reason to Hope
Despite the Christmases Past
that season returns which, for
many of us, is a season of despondence, even despair. Despite the cheerfully
orchestrated songs we hear exhorting us to an antiquated “merriness”
somewhere beyond the plated storefront glass where others feast — and
all the evidence around us that others are filled with a tinseled joy
as fragile as our fabricated dreams of Christmases past … we are left
in that empty chamber just a door away from the happiness that filters
in from a room beyond our reach.
Often we are wistful, reminiscing on times that never were, or at best
were merely school figures upon the thin ice of fragmented memories.
Perhaps our childhood knew of such times, but they are long ago, and
as we grew older we became more cynical, lamenting the commercialization
of Christmas but doing nothing to curtail it when we shopped until the
very eve of Christmas. That our own seduction by “business models” contrived
around Christmas to bring us into the malls until our last credit card
was exhausted meant that others had to work those nights and be apart
from their families concerned us little. They are separated from us
by that same plate glass window that separates us from the happiness
of others, even as we see our own reflection upon them …
What is more, the day after Christmas our streets are lined with thrown-out
Christmas trees (despite the Season of Christmas lasting until Candlemas,
or the Feast of the Presentation of our Lord over a month later) laying
upon heaps of boxes of electronic presents that will need firmware updates
even as they are opened and which will be superseded by newer models
within 3 months. The Mangers will soon follow and within a week the
house will be as sterile of Christmas as it had been the week before
In a word, we can become jaded with Christmas.
Why? The answer most widely acknowledged is simply that we have capitalized
Christmas — no, not by means of placing a majuscule, a capital
letter, at the beginning
of the word, but by monetizing it. It is the yearly occasion of spending
large sums of money we do not have for people who do not need it … obligating
them, in turn, to reciprocate and to give us what we do not need, and
most often do not want.
But this is a cheat. The real reason is that we have lost Christ. Had
we not lost Him first, then Madison Avenue could not have coopted Christmas.
The gift-giving and gift-getting would never have gained traction. It
would have been celebrated as a Holy Day. Do we even remember the notion
of Holy Days, that is to say, days that are holy to us in and of themselves?
Indeed, do we even recognize the notion of holiness any longer — as
pertaining to people, places, things, days, and occasions set apart
by God and solely for God? Are our lives noticeably affected by our
observance or recognition of the holy? For an hour, a day, are we better
men and women for it — or do we leave our encounter with the holy utterly
unchanged? Our encounters with the holy — which is to say with God —
should affect us, change us, for the better.
When we Encounter the Holy
(if we recognize it)
There are only two ways to respond to an encounter with the holy: to
be profoundly changed by it or to remain utterly unchanged because we
are blind to it. If it is the latter, it is self-inflicted. We do not
see because seeing requires changing, and we do not wish to change.
We do not want to relinquish anything in order to receive everything
— precisely because it does not include the petty things that we must
relinquish. We would have it all: God and self. And some would have
more: God as self. This is the sine qua non of Madison Avenue and every
mass marketer: the self as the axis of the universe — and who is better
prepared to serve and supply such a voracious deity?
Christ, more often than not, is the God of the poor.
It need not be this way. God knows (literally).
In this season of cynicism, despondence, and despair, there is hope
— but it is only in Christ. It is not manufactured in China and promoted
by Madison Avenue. You will not find it in the pop-up ads in your browser,
nor in this Sunday’s newspaper circular. It is definitely not a “Black
Friday Deal”, or “available for a limited time only.” It is in Christ
Alone — and it is freely given.
We welcome Christ into the world on Christmas. We celebrate His Incarnation.
We prostrate ourselves at the culmination of salvific history. God has
come to save man. He has come to save you and to save me; to bring us
to the glorious fulfillment of all His promises … to take us home into
everlasting mansions prepared for us before the beginning of the world.
There is a glory, a beauty unspeakable, a happiness unending beyond
the grayscale landscape of this world writhing in war and tormented
by sin. It is called Heaven. It is whence Christ came, and whither we
go — if we grasp this promise held out to us by the Hand of God clasped
this Christmas day in the hand of Mary who ever extends this hand of
grace, salvation, and glory to us.
There is hope. Let us take it by the hand and go whither it leads us.
Boston Catholic Journal
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