"And the angel said to them, ''Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.''" (Lk 2, 10-12).
This verse encapsulates in itself the very essence of Christmas: the feast of saving joy! This salvation is joyful because the Saviour has come to save us from the shackles of sin and the dominion of darkness.
Christmas is a season of universal festivity. Even non-believers perceive something extraordinary and transcendental about the Christmas season.
At Christmas we pause to contemplate the Nativity. There we find the Virgin Mother offering to everyone the Baby Jesus. The devotion of the Christian people has always considered the birth of Jesus and the divine motherhood of Mary as two aspects of the same mystery of the Incarnation of the Divine Word.
In 1223, to rekindle the awareness of Baby Jesus who had effectively fallen into the sleep of oblivion in many hearts, St. Francis of Assisi simply and joyfully commemorated the scene of the Nativity according to the infancy Gospel, and the Crib thus became one of the traditional and best-
loved symbols of Christmas. In the crib we contemplate the One who stripped himself of divine glory in order to become poor, driven by love for mankind. We see the almighty God revealing Himself to us as a poor infant in order to conquer our pride. In the Baby Jesus we discover the defenselessness of God's love: God comes to us unarmed, because he does not intend to conquer externally, but rather to win us over and transform us internally - to lead us to our true selves.
The cave stall, where the Baby lay, was not inhabited by refined persons. Are we very far from that stall precisely because we are too refined and intelligent? Don't we perhaps live too much closed in on ourselves, in our self-sufficiency, our fear of persecution, such that we are no longer able to perceive in the night the voices of angels so that we may join them in adoring Him?
Beside the crib the Christmas tree, with its twinkling lights, reminds us that with the birth of Jesus the tree of life has blossomed anew in the desert of humanity. The tree that was brought to us from the dark and shadowy forest is now in the light and covered in decorations like many marvelous fruits. Leaving behind its somber robe for a sparkling radiance, it has been transformed into a carrier of a light that is no longer its own but bears witness to the true Light that comes to the world.
One can compare the tree's presence to our existence in the world in which we are also called to bear good fruits to show that the world has truly been visited and redeemed by the Lord. The criband the tree: precious symbols, which hand down in time the true meaning of Christmas!
Today, amid a politically correct and consumerist Christmas attitude, we are allowing ourselves to be stripped of our traditions, the dearest and most venerable, the oldest and sweetest, the truest and most beautiful, so that carelessly, through neglect, we are abandoning Christ to follow the latest futile fad. Christmas thus runs the risk of losing its spiritual meaning, reduced to a mere commercial occasion to buy and exchange gifts. What was once a time to celebrate the birth of a savior has somehow turned into a season of stress, traffic jams, and shopping lists. And when it's all over, many of us are left with presents to return, looming debt that will take months to pay off, and an empty feeling of missed purpose.
A sensitive Christian would not let anything replace the Crib and Christmas tree. Commemorating these means passing on the history of popular piety and religiosity. Putting up the Crib and Christmas tree in homes and public places, not in a folkloric manner but as symbols of faith, prayer and offering, means rediscovering joy and the solidarity of friendship, the human tenderness of relations and the piety of souls of enchanted children and adults.
In advancement of faith, family and fraternity may we all strive to keep Christ in Christmas!