December 11, 2015

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Christmas: Our greatest gift, our beauty, our joy

Cynthia DewesThe only certainty in life is change. It’s inevitable. We change as we age, from helpless baby to confident teen to busy adult to helpless geezer. We change schools, jobs, friends and sometimes (sigh!) husbands or wives.

We change our tastes. If we once read only mystery novels, now we may like biographies better. Or maybe we couldn’t stand to eat cauliflower, but now we think it’s pretty tasty. We used to hang out with the party animals, but now we prefer our reading club.

The older we get, the less we seem to like change, probably because “what is” is more comfortable than “what might be” if something changes. Some may think of this as the wisdom that comes with age, but I think it’s more like fear. While it’s true that age can bring experience that supports our opinions, we need to make sure that it is supported by hope. As in the hope that Christmas represents.

For example, celebrations of Christmas have changed over the years that I’ve enjoyed them. What used to be modest gift-giving in honor of God’s great gift to us of salvation has morphed into commercialization that is widely criticized. Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving in all kinds of stores, is a bigger event than Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.

Children learn early on that Santa Claus and his bag of gifts is the chief hero of the Christmas event. Of course, they’re too young to understand the mystery of Christmas (who does?), which they’ll hear about later. But maybe they should know that Santa is St. Nicholas, representing the generosity of God.

Decorating for Christmas can also distract us from remembering the true “reason for the season,” as they say. We hear about the poor zealot who decorates his home and lawn so brilliantly that he’s being sued by his neighbors. On the other hand, his display must bring a lot of joy to some of the people passing by.

Sometimes, decorators even get carried away in church. We’ve experienced Christmas Masses where the poinsettias almost overwhelmed the manger scene at the altar. Or the hired choir singers, beautiful as they sounded, were more of a distraction than an asset.

We need to keep in mind the basis of the Christmas celebration, which is God’s love for us. Thus we have the gift exchanges, the free community dinners, and the distribution of gifts to the poor. We sing about goodwill to all, forgiveness and reconciliation at this holy season.

Now, it’s easy to feel and express love for those who love us, as Scripture tells us. And at Christmas we may even feel and express love for strangers or people we would ordinarily ignore. But maybe we need to continue that effort throughout the year.

We could volunteer once a month at St. Vincent de Paul, or serve food at a soup kitchen or help with the Church or community food pantry. We might visit homebound people, or give them a ride to church or the grocery store. We might just visit with them on the phone now and then.

Whatever we’re inspired to do will be based on the example of Christmas. Trendy changes to the celebration can be chalked up to human invention since our current culture seems to be anti-religious. But Christians will understand what it really means when they wish each other a “Merry Christmas!”

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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