The adoration of the Magi is depicted in a 14th-century painting by Giotto di Bondone. CNS photo
THE people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness, a light has dawned (Isaiah 9:2).
Is this not true for us today? We are ever more connected via social media and the internet, yet broken relationships are on the rise and more people feel alone and alienated. The recent US elections and Brexit have also demonstrated undercurrents of division in First World Nations.
Religious wars, threats from terrorist groups, political agendas, re-definitions of family and marriage, freedom of expression personified in political leaders who advocate intolerance all serve to confuse not only the youth but all of us in this world today. As leaders and systems fail us, we too seem to be walking in confusion and darkness.
Yet we do not despair, for the light of Christ comes to us at Christmas. To non-believers, Christmas is just a time for festivity and merry-making. We too can get caught up in the busy-ness of the season. Even in Church, we are in danger of this if we just focus on the external preparations – which carol to sing, how to decorate the crib, what clothes to wear to midnight Mass etc. and so we miss the wood for the trees.
We miss the opportunity of preparing our own hearts to receive the baby Jesus and to reflect on the real meaning of Christmas, which is found in 1 Jn 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
Christ is the gift of God in person. The Father loves us so much that He did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all. (Rom 8:32). The doctrine of the Incarnation, God becoming man, is beyond human reckoning. Indeed, when we contemplate on Christmas, we cannot but marvel at the mercy and generosity of God. Knowing that God has given Himself to us totally in His Son, we can therefore be confident in approaching Him for all our needs. So we are heartened that we are not alone, we are not lost, for we have Jesus – God’s gift to the world, to guide and accompany us in our journey on Earth.
Furthermore, Jesus is not simply the gift of the Father, but He gave Himself to us, freely and totally. He said, “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again; this charge I have received from my Father” (Jn 10:18).
What is even more awesome is that “while we were yet helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom 5:6). God loves us without conditions, not because we are good or deserving. Such is the depth of Christ’s love, holding nothing back from us and yet so fully identified with us in our suffering and pain.
Having seen what God has done for us, what should our response be? Having received Jesus as the gift of God, we are called to give Jesus, the greatest of all gifts, the light of the world to all humanity. He is the prince of peace. How can this be done? We are called to be God’s personal gift to others too. Like Jesus, we are called to give without conditions and without any expectation of gratitude, reward or recognition.
Giving need not be confined to material gifts but we can also give ourselves in service to the Church and our fellowmen. For there is no greater gift than the gift of ourselves. St Paul said, “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again.” (1 Cor 5:14f)
How, then, can you give the gift of yourself to the Church? The Church needs more people who are willing to give themselves in service to the People of God either as priests, Religious, volunteers or paid workers. The Church needs volunteers to offer their time, talents, resources and expertise in the work of the New Evangelization and the renewal of the People of God.
The Church needs funds to finance infrastructure, operations and to staff the different offices working together for the spread of the Good News. The Church needs funds too for the works of mercy as she reaches out to the poor and needy, the sick and elderly, regardless of race, language or religion. In whatever, we do, it is for one purpose, to share the Good News about Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth, the Life, the Peace and the Light of the world to all.
Indeed, to celebrate Christmas means that we want to imitate Jesus in giving ourselves as a gift to others. Like the Magi, let us ask ourselves what gift we can bring to the Lord this Christmas. For it is not how much we give but how much love we put into the giving.
We can give kind and affirming words (through an email, a card or just a SMS). We can give others a chance when they fail, encouragement, forgiveness, a smile or a prayer. For in giving, we make a difference to the lives of others and to the world. As St Teresa of Kolkata says, “We know only too well that what we are doing is nothing more than a drop in the ocean. But if the drop were not there, the ocean would be missing something.”
It is therefore through giving that we share in His life and joy – “He sacrificed Himself for us in order to set us free from all wickedness and to purify a people so that it could be His very own and would have no ambition except to do good.” (Tit 2:14).
May the magnitude of God’s love dawn upon us this Christmas and empower us to give whatever we can to bring light to those in darkness, so that they too may share in God’s gift of love, joy and peace. I pray that the baby Jesus be born in our hearts this Christmas, so that our faith and relationships are renewed. Wishing you all a Blessed and Holy Christmas.
Archbishop William Goh