The lighting of the first Advent candle marks the beginning of the penitential season, a holy time to focus on repentance and on our need for Jesus in our World. Yet, often in the preparations for Christmas, we can lose sight of the reason for the season. Jesuit Father Thomas Madden, retreat director at the Jesuit Spirituality Center in Grand Coteau, offered the following reflection to help us refocus our sights…
Now that Thanksgiving is past, we may turn our full attention and energy to preparing for Christmas.
The merchants already for some weeks now have been trying to capture our attention and get us to start the shopping frenzy that makes the coming month the most important time of the year for them. And there are reminders here and there to “put Christ back in Christmas,” but it is an annual campaign that seems to lose more ground every year to take hold of the popular, maybe even the Christian, imagination.
What does it mean to “put Christ back in Christmas” besides going to church on Dec. 25? How might Jesus himself answer that question about how to celebrate his birthday?
I asked myself the question and heard the answer in something that he himself once said.
St. Luke relates (14:12-14) that he told his host one time at a dinner to which he had been invited: “When you hold a lunch or dinner don’t invite your friends or your brothers and sisters or your wealthy neighbors in case they may invite you back and you have repayment. Rather, when you hold a banquet invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
This sounds very similar to Jesus’ statement about the criterion of final judgment: “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Mt. 25:40).
Could it be that this is how Jesus wants us to put him back in the celebration of his birthday?
The needy to whom Jesus himself ministered in his temporal life and with whom he now identifies through us are the poor, whose number is scandalous in our own country; the hungry and the homeless; the aged in nursing homes; the chronically sick and disabled; the marginalized at home and abroad; all those who live a borderline existence and depend on the charity of others to survive. These are those whom Jesus calls his brothers and sisters.
How much easier and how great a time-saver to select just the right gift for such as these. And how much greater the satisfaction both for the giver and the receiver and the loved one in whose name the gift is given. And how much simpler a way to stay within one’s own limited budget. All it takes is to write a check to your favorite charity or that of your loved one and send it in his or her name with a note accordingly on your Christmas card to him or her. This is an “alternative” way of celebrating Christmas, but one much more in tune with the original Christmas, when God gave us the gift of his first-born son to save us from the desperate poverty into which our human family had fallen.