a black on white block print of a family trimming a Christmas tree

Christmas Is a Choice

by Paulette Curran

If you are already anticipating Christmas with joy, praise and thank God. Or are you anticipating one that is, let us say, “less than perfect”? Or even a very difficult one?

If you are anticipating a hard Christmas this year, you have lots of company. For so many people throughout the world—I’m thinking especially of refugees, though not only of them—this will be a hard Christmas indeed.

And the first Christmas? Well, it wasn’t exactly idyllic for Mary and Joseph either.

Just think about it. What would it be like to be in labor outside on a cold night, jostled on a donkey, and even worse than that, having no assurance of finding a bed on which to give birth to your baby?

What would it be like to be an exhausted, probably panicking Joseph desperately walking from place to place seeking the shelter his agonized wife so desperately needed?

On the other hand, after the birth, what would it be like to gaze upon the long-awaited Messiah, the Savior of the world?

The Messiah? But they were in a cave—and he looked like an ordinary little baby. Only faith—faith in the words of the angels beforehand and the songs of the angels that night—told them that this little baby, the baby to whom Mary had given birth, was the Son of God.

At that time, Mary and Joseph must have been on two levels: what they could see and feel; and the miracle, the glory that was far beyond what anyone could hope or imagine.

Perhaps the Father gave them an overwhelming experience of glory. Perhaps not. And even if he did, after it was over, they just saw an ordinary little baby boy, their son. What faith it must have taken to believe, and as time went on, to continue to choose to believe, that their little boy was God!

We, too, live on two levels, if we have faith. If we don’t have faith, we know only the level of what we experience and feel.

If we have faith, we are open to the Church’s gift of the liturgical seasons.

She gives us Advent in which to prepare our hearts for Christmas. This is the time to join whatever darkness and loneliness and poverty are in our hearts to those of all the world as it longs for love, happiness, fulfillment, peace, an end to suffering—factually, as it longs for God, though so much of the time, it does not know it.

The songs of Advent, the Scripture readings at Mass and in the Divine Office help us to do this. They keep sighing, “Come, Lord Jesus. Come, Lord, come,” over and over and over.

Advent is the time to prepare for Christmas on the practical level, of course, but also while doing so, to keep praying in our hearts, “Come. Come. Come.”

Then, whether we are ready or not, Christmas comes. And now in song, decorations, celebrations, carols, and especially in the Masses, we proclaim that Christ is born.

For our lives, like that of Mary and Joseph, are on two levels—what we see and experience and what we know by faith. For the most part, when we celebrate Christmas, the two are inter-twined.

But no matter what we are experiencing and feeling, the deeper level, the deepest reality is that God so loved the world that he gave us his only begotten Son so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but will have eternal life (Jn 3:16).

The reality is that, hidden in that cave, was more power than in the whole of the Roman Empire. The reality is that there is no danger, no evil, no sin, nothing more powerful than God. And he is our loving Savior. That is cause for great rejoicing.

But it takes faith to believe this when the world around us is self-destructing and/or our individual lives seem to be falling apart. It takes faith to hang on to it, to cling to it no matter what we are feeling. Faith like that of Mary and Joseph when they looked on what seemed like an ordinary baby boy.

But the more we focus on that faith level, the more we live in it, the more we will ultimately come to the peace that underlies suffering and transforms it, the more we will come to have the peace that surpasses all understanding (Phil. 4:7).

But we are not disembodied spirits. Choosing joy and choosing Christmas celebrations help to bring us to peace and joy: the Masses, the Christmas story, other Christmas stories, the songs, the decorations, the festive food, the lights, and just being with family and friends.

No wonder the forces of evil want to destroy Christmas!

May God grant each of you a measure of Christmas joy.