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No one seems to tire of hearing the Christmas story. Every year, we are told about the sweet baby Jesus’ arrival, not only in Scripture but in many versions, including some that boggle the mind. Still, we can empathize with the poor young couple compelled by governmental edict to make a dangerous journey across country.
The wife is heavily pregnant, uncomfortable at best, being jogged along on a donkey led by her weary husband. The couple is also burdened with the mysterious knowledge that their baby was conceived by divine rather than human love, and that he is destined to fulfill the Messianic prophesy of the Jewish religion.
Naturally, as another result of being poor and humble, they can’t find a shelter for the night and must sleep on the hay in a stable with the animals. While there, the young mother gives birth to a baby boy, and then the wonder begins. Visitors from the highborn three kings to the lowly shepherds arrive to pay homage to Jesus.
Non-believers sense the importance of this story, and are awed by it. Even non-religious people love it. After all, who doesn’t love a baby? Or knowing that exceptional things will happen in his life, things that have affected the course of history every since?
Over many years and many retellings, the Christmas story has been embellished occasionally. We’ve had drummer boys and jugglers and red-nosed reindeer and who-knows-what thrown into it to add new interest. But in the end, it’s still the story of Beginning, of Promise, of Hope.
With the birth of Christ comes the possibility of salvation and release from the sins of being human. Jesus comes to bring us the Good News, and to show us how to live by its tenets. His 33 years on Earth as a man gives us the example of how to live so as to gain eternal life with him in heaven. We can hope to see God.
Jesus teaches us in parables which enable us to understand profound truths. We learn that we must always think of the good of others before ourselves, that we must be generous and kind and helpful. It’s easy to rattle off a list of virtues, but harder to practice them, but Jesus shows us how.
Christmas is the beginning of our Good News, and Easter is its culmination. Both are joyous occasions and should be celebrated. Many customs have developed in all countries to do just that. As Americans, many of ours are English or German in origin, but we are a nation of immigrants and keep gaining more ways to express our joy.
In our family we enjoy the traditional Christmas fun, reading ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas and A Christmas Carol, watching movies such as It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story so many times that we know the dialogue by heart, and singing Christmas carols.
We wrap gifts for those we love and send cheery messages to family, friends and acquaintances. It’s a time to share joy. We take the kids to tell Santa what they want for Christmas, and then try to answer their requests or think of a way to tell them that Santa couldn’t oblige them.
Most important of all, we attend the Christmas Mass and are inspired by its story all over again. Indeed, this is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.) †