Every year as Christmas draws near, I call to mind good memories of family celebrations, Christmas feasts, the gathering of relatives, the lighting of the final candle of our family Advent wreath and midnight Mass.  I am sure that many of us have these same kind of memories of family gatherings and rituals that create a deep spiritual joy that is uniquely connected to the Advent and Christmas season.  Yet as strong as these memories are, it may seem that the connection with the deep spiritual meaning of Christmas seems to fade each year and all the busyness of our Christmas celebration seems to be more disconnected from the wonder and joy we should feel as we celebrate the birth of our savior, Jesus Christ. 

When I was growing up there was never any doubt for me that everything my family did for Christmas was centered on our faith.  Before the Christmas tree was decorated, we put up the manger scene. At every dinner meal for the four weeks before Christmas we lit a family Advent wreath and all our celebrations and dinners were scheduled around going to Mass and any other religious event at the church. 

It is so easy to lose the heart of our spiritual joy at Christmas by losing the spiritual center of the season.  Slowly, without realizing, we make our Christmas Day family schedule THEN we decide when or whether we have time for Mass.  We may have long ago stopped planning to make time to attend an Advent penance service to prepare spiritually for Christmas.  As the activities of Christmas become more separated from a spiritual center we become more frantic, demanding and less willing to make time for prayer, quiet and for anything that will complicate the schedule.  For example, we may decide out of our stress, that there is no room for any one else for dinner especially for  “you-know-who” because they will mess things up. At this point we might be accused of sounding like the innkeeper who told the Holy Family there was no room at the inn. Our Christmas celebration becomes so self-centered that we squeeze out a space for our Savior. 

We can change.  A few years ago my family decided we were buying too many presents and the frantic rush to give everyone a gift was taking the joy out of Christmas.  So we decided to choose names and only buy one gift for the one person whose name we chose. The next Christmas we were able to approach Christmas day with calm and more time to reflect upon the wonder of God’s love. 

If you feel you are losing it, or you are becoming a Christmas grouch, then take time to prayerfully consider where your faith in Christ is in all this activity.  The first step is not to change what you do, it is to discover why you are doing it. When you have re-discovered Christ at the center then not only will everything find its place, but you will be free to make room for the unexpected. 

You might even open your door to the unexpected or difficult guest and discover they are not in your way, but they may be THE WAY to act in a loving manner and truly celebrate the meaning of Christmas, something the innkeeper never discovered in Bethlehem.  By grounding ourselves in the deeper spiritual meaning of Christmas you are able to find hope and joy even when it is hard. 

For some there are no warm memories of Christmas celebrations with their family.  For others, the easy joy of this year’s celebration has been broken by the death or illness of a loved one.  For someone who has lost their job it is difficult to create the memories that come with Christmas dinners and gifts for the family.  Especially in these moments the truest meaning of the love of God is revealed:  that our Savior came to be with us and give us hope even in these darkest moments. When we are poor and in need we discover our deepest faith and the most profound gifts that Jesus offers. 

So in the end think of it this way:  If on Christmas Eve you took away every decoration, light, Christmas tree and evidence of Christmas and cancelled every gathering and dinner, on Christmas morning, when you awoke, would your heart still be filled with the joy of celebrating the birth of our Savior?  When the answer to this is honestly YES, then everything else you do will find its proper place.

I pray your Christmas celebrations of the birth of our savior will be a time of grace and blessing. 

Bishop Michael G. Duca