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The Four Joys of Christmas


Tom Hoopes - published on 12/22/14

Every Mass is a Bethlehem and every tabernacle is a manger where all you have to do to contemplate Christ is sit and stare.

The fourth joy of Christmas: receiving gifts.

As much as I loved the crèche, I probably would have identified the gifts under the tree as the most powerful symbol of Christmas in my childhood. I might still be tempted to do so. And I think that is not a bad thing.

Yes, selfishness and the commercialization of Christmas are an ugly, terrible thing. But there is also something supremely beautiful about the outpouring of gifts on Christmas morning.

Growing up, my parents (wisely?) never bought us the things we begged for: I never got Star Wars toys or Rock ’Em Sock ’Em Robots. But I still remember getting an artificial coonskin cap and a canteen in a leather case and being thrilled.

There is another teaching of St. John Paul II that is relevant to Christmas gifts: In addition to the “law of the gift,” he taught about the centrality of receptivity. It’s the Marian dimension of the Christian vocation. What we are is only what we are willing to receive from God.

In his commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis re-translates the first beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” to account for what the Greek words for “blessed,” “poor” and “spirit” really  mean: “Fortunate are they who beg for their life’s very breath!”

Christmas gift-receiving is an icon of poverty of spirit: The true Christian is the one who sees every day as a Christmas morning, a startling outpouring of gifts such that they never seem to stop coming.

These are the four joys of Christmas, the subjects of stories and songs. Ultimately Christmas morning sums up the Good News of the Gospel: Jesus Christ has established a home, filled it with good things and invited us to share it.

Tom Hoopes is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.

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