We know the lessons of Christmas. And yet we need to learn them all over again.
The lessons of Christmas are like a miracle. They are well known to us — but still have the power to come as a shock each year, as if we had never heard them before.
Christmas is counter-cultural in significant ways, and by meditating on Jesus and the creche we can heal places in our heart where we have allowed the ways of the world to make us callous.
- Christmas teaches that babies are as important as (or more than!) adults.
Our decade began as the most child-averse in memory. Nearly 1 in 5 American women ends her childbearing years without having borne a child, double the number who did so in the 1970s. The most educated women are the most likely to have never had a child.
At Christmas, though, God doesn’t send a hero like King David. He sends a baby — his only son, wisdom incarnate. This shows us many things, but among them is the importance of babies. To mark the appearance of this baby God changes the night sky, calls magi from far-off lands, and summons a host of angels to gather a crowd at the birthplace.
- Christmas puts politics in perspective.
Politics dominates our news and fills us with anxiety as never before. We lean on it for the solutions to our problems — from the economy to education, from health care to “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
But the baby born in Bethlehem gets the better of politics, from the start. The Roman census that uprooted his mother and father when he was due to be born merely brought him to where he wanted to be born in the first place. When the evil King Herod attacked his family, he sidestepped the violence and fled to Egypt. Politics is important — but Jesus is stronger.
- God embraces the family.
In our day fewer Americans than ever are getting married, and more U.S. married couples than ever consider children unnecessary to a good marriage. Worldwide, in 1988, only 2 adults in 5 disagreed that without children we “lead empty lives”; in 2010, a 3-in-5 majority disagreed.
But look at the creche and you will see not just a couple, and not just a baby, but a family. The Christmas story reminds us that it’s not the individual but the family that is at the center of society. God didn’t just enter humanity, he entered a family and he doesn’t just call us individually, he calls us in families.
- God is patient.
In America, we tend to expect everything now. Technology has given us shorter attention spans than ever. According to research at UMass Amherst, we bail out in 2 seconds if an online video doesn’t load right away. We won’t put in for the long haul. We want the quick reward.
God isn’t like that. He is the master of patient waiting. He promised a savior, then delivered — after a millennium or two — by sending a baby. In the future would come his maturation, his public ministry, his Resurrection and Ascension, his Scripture and Church, for those with the patience. But he teaches patience already by appearing as a baby, a mystery that requires patience and time to appreciate, in the same way that his Real Presence in the tabernacle yields spectacular graces to those who have the patience to seek them.
- God chooses poverty.
Greed is in. America’s homes are bigger than ever, nearly 1,000 square feet bigger than in 1983 on average. Individual credit card debt has grown yearly since 2014, and when people are polled about their priorities they put money way above everything else, including community, personal growth and health. We spend $70 billion on the lottery every year — and only $50 billion on charity.
In his manger at Bethlehem, God himself points another way. He is born in poverty and modesty, laid in a manger and kept warm by his swaddling clothes and the breath of animals. He is visited by shepherds — the migrant laborers of their time. He is the son of a humble carpenter and his young wife, the forgotten by earth’s standards.
Christmas is a time to kneel at the manger beside them and ask once again to learn his lessons.
St. John of the Cross summarizes the true spirit of Christmas in this one quote