The SEASON of Christmas

The gifts have been opened and the feast has been shared.  All the hurried weeks of shopping and planning and preparation are over.  Families have come together for gifting and reunion, some good and others maybe not so good.  Christmas is over.  At least that’s what the world would have us believe.  But for us Catholics, Christmas only BEGINS on Christmas Day.  For us, Christmas lasts until the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which falls on Sunday, January 8. It’s not just a single day, but an entire liturgical season.  And when Christmas is celebrated over weeks instead of just one day the enormity of the Incarnation can begin to be experienced.
Christmas is about new beginnings.  In the birth of Christ, God’s plan for our salvation begins to unfold before our eyes.  What was foretold throughout the Old Testament as the coming of the Messiah is now an historical fact.  Christ is our new beginning.  Our hope for heaven has come to a manger in Bethlehem.  God has a face and a name.  He has a mother and a foster father who love Him beyond measure and who will, in just a few weeks, be forced to flee into Egypt with Him when King Herod sets in motion a plot to have Him murdered.  But in those first few days, it’s just Joseph and Mary and Jesus together — the Holy Family.
And I think maybe family is what these late December days should really be about.  We look at the baby Jesus and we see His innocence and His dependency.  Just like any baby, He reaches out for warmth and food, for comfort and for love.  He is as captivated by the shepherds and their lambs as He is by the famous Magi and their expensive gifts.  Everyone is welcome in His nursery.  Right now, as we look upon Him, we don’t see the trials and sufferings yet to come, we see only the newborn and His family. 
In the Holy Family of God we see everything a family needs.  We see Mary, whose sinless heart humbly found perfect favor with the Lord and below that heart, made room for the Messiah to enter into time and become one of us.  Today in America 40% of all our babies aren’t allowed to be born at all, but are aborted by their mothers.  Many young women, finding themselves as Mary was, pregnant and unmarried, are pressured by their boyfriends or their family to abort their child.  St. Joseph heard God’s message and stood by Mary and her baby.  He loved the Lord and he loved Mary, in that order. He put his own concerns at their service and was rewarded with the Son of God.  Both Mary and Joseph centered their lives on Jesus and though suffering came to them as it comes to all our families, they grew together in love and in faith.
Every Christmas is another visit to Bethlehem to enter into the newness of Christ.  It’s an opportunity to look within our own families and see if we have our priorities straight.  Do we pray and worship together every Sunday?  Do we regularly encounter God’s mercy in the Sacrament of Confession?  Do we keep Christ at the center of our decision-making?  Are we making sure our children are educated in the Catholic faith?  Do we support the Church financially and the pro-life causes of adoption and foster-parenting?  The Infant Jesus calls to us in His innocence.  He asks us to stay a while with Him in the manger tonight and to keep watch over Him with His family.  He doesn’t ask for gifts or tribute, just your time and attention.  Just to be with Him.  Just to love Him.  And He’d love it if you brought your family with you.
“Let the stable still astonish:  straw, dirt floor, dull eyes, dusty flanks of donkeys, oxen:
Crooked, crumbling walls;
No bed to carry that pain, and then, the Child.
Rag-wrapped, laid to cry in a trough.
Who would have chosen this?
Who would have said:  “Yes, let the God of all the heavens and the earth be born here, in this place?”
Who but the same God, Who stands in the darker, fouler rooms of our hearts and says,
“Yes, let the God of heaven and earth be born HERE—in this place.”
                                                                  —-by L.L. Fields

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