Father John Joseph Fenelon
Christmas for Christians is about the Incarnation, God becoming man in Jesus Christ to bring salvation to the world.
But Christmas is not just a season of remembering and thanksgiving for the saving action of God; it is also looking back on what we have experienced in the last 12 months. The loss of a loved one could have left an irreplaceable void, and sorrow magnified by a divorce or chronic illness, poverty or retrenchment. At the same time, getting married, the arrival of a newborn baby, financial success or a happy family life add to the blessings of the season.
Joys and sorrows
The feast days of the Christmas season reflect the joys and sorrows of everyday life. For the Catholic Church, Christmas begins on Dec 25 and ends on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord on Jan 10. Although the joyful feasts of the Holy Family and the Epiphany fall on Dec 27 and Jan 3 respectively, we often forget that Christmas Day marks Jesus’ birth at a moment when Mary and Joseph had no room at the inn, and the murders of St Stephen and the Holy Innocents are commemorated on Dec 26 and on Dec 28.
These two sad events remind us of the challenge and suffering that will accompany us in following Jesus and being faithful to Him. Even the adoration of Jesus by the wise men at Epiphany ends with the Holy Family fleeing to Egypt as refugees from King Herod’s violent regime.
The shadow of the cross looms ominously over the Christmas manger. “At the culmination of His mission, Jesus gave the ultimate proof of His care for us by offering Himself on the cross to set us free from the slavery of sin and death. By the sacrificial gift of His life, He opened for us the path of love. To each of us He says, “Follow me; go and do likewise” (cf. Lk 10:37). (Pope Francis)
If the first Christmas brought joy and sorrow, then we should not be surprised that Christmas today is no different. Many families in Singapore still struggle to afford a home; some are threatened with eviction, and Catholic Welfare Services, working with government agencies, regularly takes proactive action to provide relief for the homeless. Many of our migrant workers were also forced to “flee” from the poverty of their home countries by finding their fortunes far away from home.
For once, in this time of pandemic, we are given the opportunity to experience what the first Christmas was like.
The path to peace
Whether we are personally experiencing happy or sad times, we are called to rise above our own joys or sorrows to reach out to those who are in need of love, big or small. This the real meaning of Christmas, to give love everyday, to make God, who is Love, incarnate and real in the life of those who need it.
This is why Pope Francis calls us to adopt a culture of care for one another in his 2021 Message for the World Day of Peace on Jan 1. “A culture of care is a way to combat the culture of indifference, waste and confrontation so prevalent in our time.”
The Pope gave the example of the early Church. “The spiritual and corporal works of mercy were at the heart of charity as practised by the early Church. The first generation of Christians shared what they had, so that no one among them would be in need (cf. Acts 4:34-35). They strove to make their community a welcoming home, concerned for every human need and ready to care for those most in need.”
Today, the Pope calls on us to do the same, in solidarity with each other. “Solidarity helps us to regard others as more than mere statistics, or as a means to be used and then discarded once no longer useful, but as our neighbours, companions on our journey, called like ourselves to partake of the banquet of life to which all are equally invited by God.”
He further points out that “In the face of the pandemic, we have realised that we are in the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed; all of us called to row together since no one reaches salvation by themselves.”
During this Christmas season, let us remember that Jesus, the Prince of Peace, was born so that He could be in the same boat with us to calm our storms and bring us peace.
Let us take therefore not hesitate to embrace this culture of care, and reach out in solidarity to those around us who are in need of Christmas cheer so everyone will have a meaningful and heartwarming Christmas and New Year ahead.