In the midst of tragedy, how can we celebrate this Christmas season?
You know, it’s no easy thing being a U of M fan in East Lansing, but I get by. I remember the important lessons of my childhood and that helps. I recall one time when I was quite young and we went to the home of one of my dad’s friends. For Christmas, dad’s friend had gotten a University of Michigan sweatshirt. As he proudly displayed it, I asked “Hey, did you go to U of M?” My dad pulled me aside and said, “Son, you should never ask someone if they went to U of M. If they did, they’ll tell you, if they didn’t, you really shouldn’t embarrass them.” Oh, the lessons of youth—learning what is appropriate and what is not! (Please keep the hate mail on this one to a minimum. I am a busy man!) The following question is all about being appropriate.
Dear Fr. Joe: Should we really be celebrating this time of year? I think about the disaster of Sept. 11 and the possibility of future terrorist attacks, I think of our troops over in a foreign war and the people of Afghanistan, and I wonder if we shouldn’t “hold back a little” with all that is happening. What do you think?
That’s a great question! It’s important for us to be aware of what is going on in the world and be sensitive to that. So, what does Christmas say to the events of this past year in our country? How do we celebrate at a time like this, if we celebrate at all? I am going to spare everyone the talk of “living like normal.” I don’t think that’s possible or even responsible at this point. Ignoring the reality of being a country at war is foolish. So, what do we do? We celebrate. We look the idea and season of Christmas right in the eye and see how it applies to this event. So, let’s dive into the moments of Jesus’ birth and life.
Jesus was born around 3 B.C. in Israel. At that time, Israel had been in a state of perpetual war since the time of Alexander the Great. The Romans had occupied Israel and had set up a puppet Jewish king who slaughtered his own people. The Jews were searching for freedom, and were fighting among themselves as to how to deal with the Romans. The religious leaders were ideologically divided on important issues. This was the time that Jesus was born into: political, social and religious turmoil. God could have come into this world in any country at any time in history, yet he chose one of the ugliest. Think about that. Wouldn’t you agree that our need for Jesus has rarely been as obvious as it is now? It’s the perfect message for us in these times.
Celebrate the fact that Jesus loves us in the midst of our unloveliness. Celebrate that He didn’t wait for us to call on Him; He came and called us. What a concept to celebrate! This Christmas, as we wrestle with issues like warfare and fear, terrorism and anger, understand that Jesus wrestled with these things, too. At our worst moments, Jesus wants to be with us. So, we who are dealing with the same issues as the people of Jesus’ time know that Jesus dealt with these issues too. And he emerged victorious.
Now, by saying he emerged victorious, I don’t mean that he drove the Romans out; quite the contrary. One of the things that Jesus taught us is about how to be free during a time like this. How do we act as a people of freedom? First, we can let go of hatred and anger in our hearts. We are experiencing the same pains as the Jews of Jesus’ time and when Jesus spoke to them he spoke of loving enemies and forgiving each other (see St. Matthew’s Gospel).
Second, we can let go of our worry. In Matthew, Jesus points out that none of us adds a day to our life span by worrying. He said that if our Heavenly Father looks after the birds of the air and beasts of the forests, how much more will he take care of us?
Third, we can refuse to be enslaved by fear. Jesus said “Fear is useless! What is needed is faith.”
Fourth, and most importantly, Jesus reminded us to “Live on in [His] love” (John 15). Whatever we do, wherever we are, whatever the situation, we must keep in mind that we are loved by the Author of love.
God intervened in human history to save us, to walk with us and to show us how to live and love. We can be confident that whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s (St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans). You and I are God’s special possessions. Scripture says that we are the apple of His eye. That love is something we can be confident of and take comfort in. Much more so that fear, we are surrounded by the love of a God who comes to us at our darkest moments and sees the best. Celebrate that, brothers and sisters. Merry Christmas! Enjoy another day in God’s presence.