The gift that is Christmas

Al Cariño
Reproduced with Permission

During Advent, we relive the longing of the Chosen People for the coming of the Savior. On Christmas day, we joyfully celebrate the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ in fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah (Isa. 9:1-6): "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.... For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace." Thus Advent flows naturally into Christmas.

Yet what surprises us is that despite this well-known prophecy, when the royal Infant was finally born, except for a few, the Chosen People did not realize that the event they had long awaited had already taken place in their midst. Perhaps it was because of the pitiful circumstances of Jesus' birth which they never expected of someone who was called by Isaiah the "Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace."

What were the circumstances of Jesus' birth? In the gospel reading (Lk. 2:1-14), Luke gives us the vivid details. Both Mary and Joseph were then in Bethlehem because of the census called by the Roman emperor. While there, the hour for the delivery of Mary's child came. Unable to find a room in the inn, they took shelter in a cave where animals were kept for the night. There Mary gave birth to a baby Boy and laid Him in a manger. Though a great company of the heavenly host praised God for His wondrous act of gifting humankind with His Son, saying, "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests," hardly anyone recognized the event for its great significance on each one of us.

However, in order that the birth of His Son would be known at least to some people, God sent an angel to a group of shepherds - simple, poor, and good people but always on the go - and told them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord." Perhaps in God's mind, because the shepherds met all kinds of people as they pastured their flock from place to place, they would later tell others of what they had heard and seen.

What has God really done for us on that first Christmas night? The evangelist John tells us: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life" (Jn. 3:16). And it was pure gift -- undeserved, unmerited as it was an act proceeding from God's extravagant love for and generosity to us. In light of this, we can only assume the stance of humility and gratitude before God.

What does God ask of us in return for this wondrous gift? Love. Love for God and for our neighbor.

To what extent must we love our neighbor? Jesus Himself tells us: "As I have loved you, so you also should love one another" (Jn. 13:34). And to make this more concrete, the evangelist John writes, "If anyone says, 'I love God,' but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen" (1 Jn 4:20).

Sometime ago, I came across a brief story as follows:

"A rich man saw a beggar on the street as he was going home for their Christmas dinner. As there was food a-plenty on their table, he was much troubled by the thought that the beggar had none.

"The rich man became angry at God for not taking care of the poor and said, 'God, why do you allow this? Why don't you send someone to give the beggar some food?' God replied: 'O, yes, I have. Why do you think I created you?'"

If we want to know what Christmas is about, we have to answer God's question to the rich man: "Why do you think I created you?" The answer? Just as God has given us the greatest gift that He can give us, His Own Son, we too are to give not only of the things we have but also of ourselves to others, especially to those in need. And if we carry this out in our lives, then we not only understand why God gifted us with His Son but also why He created each one of us.

Jesus was born two thousand years ago. If we were among the Chosen People then, would we have also failed to recognize Him? But we do not have to go that far back. Today, yes, today, do we recognize Jesus in His many faces? We will not unless we carry out what Jesus taught the people of His time and now teaches us: "Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."

Today, as we thank God for the wonderful gift that is Christmas, let us pray for the grace to be able to live its message.