Advent is over, and Christmas has come. We’ve lit the fourth candle on our Advent wreathes, and even the fifth one, the large white Christmas Candle. Mary has given birth to her firstborn son, her only son, the Son of Man, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Remember when we were children—we couldn’t wait for Christmas Day. We couldn’t wait to open our presents, which had been sitting quietly under the tree for weeks. But even as children, we knew that Christmas joy was greater than gifts under the tree. I can remember getting a toy ice-cream maker for Christmas when I was ten years old—it had a little sticker shaped like a TV screen with the words “as seen on TV!!!” It was just what I wanted—I imagined unlimited quantities of chocolate ice-cream pouring from this magic machine: after all, I had seen it on TV. But when I tried it out, the little plastic gadget didn’t work. All it produced was a thin gooey mess. My Christmas, and my life, were ruined. But actually I began to realize that Christmas, and all of life, must be more than getting what we think we want. Jesus broke my ice-cream maker so that I would learn the emptiness this world’s satisfactions.
Even as children, we hoped for the greater spiritual gifts, and we still do. But our hopes fade as we leave childhood. Someone sent me a Christmas joke that sums up our situation: there are four stages of life. You believe in Santa Claus; You don’t believe in Santa Claus; You become Santa Claus; You look like Santa Claus. We hope that there is a fifth stage: You believe in Santa Claus again, but you believe in Him in whom Santa Claus believes. Santa kneels at the manger too. “No one,” says the catechism, “whether shepherd or wise man, can approach God here below except by kneeling before the manger and adoring Him hidden in the weakness of a newborn child.”
When we were children, we couldn’t wait for Christmas. We prayed: God, bring Christmas soon; shorten the days until Christmas morning! What has happened to that innocent longing for Christmas Day as we’ve grown older? If as children we prayed for Christmas to come soon, as adults we must pray just as fervently that Christ will come soon. Christmas points not so much to Jesus’ first coming in Bethlehem as to his second coming in glory on the clouds of heaven. How easily we forget that it is toward Christ that all of life is oriented. We settle for tawdry satisfactions and distractions from our essential purpose. A car. A house. A career. A relationship. All of these things, like the presents under the tree, only point to the real gift, the gift of a divine person, who is Christ the Lord. You will see this Jesus in the people around you and in the events of your daily life, if you search for him, if you can’t wait to see him, if you wish for him as longingly as a child wishes for Christmas Day.
Our Lady longs to see Him
Let’s try to be like Our Lady of the Annunciation, whom God blessed because she believed in his promises. She knew he would come, and she prayed day and night for his arrival. And then he came to her, through the Angel Gabriel. Like Our Lady, let us try to orient our entire lives on the expectation of his coming, as we say in the end of the Creed: “expecto resurrectionem mortuorum, et vita venturi saeculi.” Christianity is essentially forward thinking, straining itself to future glory. Every conversation, every activity, every aspect of our careers, our friendships, and our worship should be focused on this expectation. Our lives must be spent scanning the horizon for a sign of his coming, like the wise men scanned the heavens for the Bethlehem star. May that star guide us all this coming year, so that when he returns, we might receive him with joy.
A blessed and Merry Christmas, to all of you.