We are not alone; we may have hope. But we have work to do.
“Why can’t every day be Christmas?”
Children ask that, often associating “Christmas” with being stuffed with gifts and sugar and being relieved of daily duties. Adults may smile knowingly, having learned that no holiday lasts forever. Adults know we must return to “the real world.” The children ask a good question (admittedly, for faulty reasons) and the adults give a (forgivably) faulty answer.
It’s true that in this life, in this fallen world, every party or playtime must come to an end. It’s also true that we are meant to live in “the real world”—but the real world is not what most people think. What most people call the real world is more aptly named “the realm of common experience.” In other words, what most people ordinarily perceive—for example, cycles of work, rest, work, recreation, work, etc.—is all they know because that’s all their nearsighted souls allow them to see. The real world (i.e., the true, redeemed creation won and revealed by Christ) is so much richer, deeper, more delightful and poignant than the realm of common experience. The challenge for faithful Christians is to live the truth of the real world—that gift of God given to us to preserve us from Hell and to prepare us for Heaven—while resisting the stubborn illusion of the bleak drudgery of the so-called “real world.”
When I was a little boy, I knew that the Christmas season was coming because the decorations would appear, school was out and the Christmas tree went up.
And how did I know that the Christmas season was over? The decorations got put back into the box. Then school started again and I knew that Christmas was really over. How were the people of Jesus’ time to know that he was coming? God sent angels and magi and finally John the Baptist to tell people to get ready for him.
Here’s an important difference between then and now: The season of Christmas begins and ends, and then—apparently—it will go away for a whole year. But the time of Jesus Christ with us does not end. Jesus is not a season or a holiday that ends or a visitor who went away. Jesus the Christ who is Son of God and son of Mary is still with us, in ways that John the Baptist could not imagine. Christ is with us in the life and teaching of the Church; he is with us in the Scriptures; and he is with us in the sacraments, especially in the Eucharist. As Saint John Chrysostom reminds us: “If we approach with faith, we too will see Jesus … for the Eucharistic altar takes the place of the crib. Here the Body of the Lord is present, wrapped not in swaddling clothes but in the rays of the Holy Spirit.”
Many of you have seen bumper stickers and buttons and t-shirts and greeting cards that say: “Jesus is the reason for the season!” That’s true, but let’s not treat the presence of Christ as a season that comes and goes. Let’s make this year’s celebration of Christmas different from previous celebrations of Christmas. Let’s not treat Christ, the Word-made-flesh, as a decoration to be put away until next year. Let’s not treat Christ as a visitor who stops by during the holidays.
What can and should “the real world” look and feel like for faithful Christians who know that the birth of the savior changes everything? Let’s focus on the three points:
- We are not alone: God is now always with us, speaking to us in creation, through the Church, and through the amazing dignity of the human flesh that we now have in common with God.
- We may have hope: The saving work of Christ, begun at his birth, was undertaken to re-open the gates of Heaven for us. We have a higher destiny than life and death in the realm of common experience!
- We have work to do: People are in misery to the degree that they do not know and love Christ. What we have received as a gift—our Christian calling—we must now give as a gift. Whatever our state in life, we can’t rest or know peace until we do our best to bring Christ to the world and the world to Christ.
“Why can’t every day be Christmas?” It can be, it should be, and it is. Every day, Christ is with us and for us, and asks us to join him in restoring all creation to our Heavenly Father. Even as the Christmas season ends, the time of Emmanuel (God-with-us) never ends—and that’s worth celebrating!
When I write next, I will offer a meditation on the Epiphany. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.