Halfway to Christmas

Nativity of St. John the Baptist

Jacopo Pontormo, The Nativity of St. John the Baptist (1526)

A post by Fr. Scott Hurd on the approximate midpoint between Christmases, the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist celebrated yesterday in churches around the world.

Today we celebrate the birthday of St. John the Baptist. We don’t decorate trees, send cards, or exchange presents as we do on Christmas. But I don’t think that John the Baptist minds that his birthday is celebrated with less fanfare than that of our Lord. You’ll recall that he once said about Jesus: “He must increase, but I must decrease” . . .

John the Baptist knew that his mission was to prepare the way for Jesus. He lived his life, not to promote himself, but to promote the Lord. In this, John the Baptist is an important witness for us and challenges our society’s preoccupation with self-promotion. He reminds us that Christians shouldn’t aspire to be a celebrity, but should strive to be a servant. We should live lives that shout not “Look at me!” but “Look to Jesus.”

With Christmas still six months away, it may seem strange that the Church calendar reminds us now of its approach, but I’m glad for it. The decorations, sales, and incessant commercialization of this day is still months away, and maybe now is a good time to reflect upon its original meaning. I wrote about this last year on December 23, as the frantic “Holiday Season” was nearing its thankful close.

Emmanuel: God with us. This is the meaning of Christmas. In a cave—which is what the “stable” in Bethlehem really was—born to a poor teenaged girl: a powerless child of a powerless mother in the shadow of the most powerful empire the world had ever known.

God chose not to come in power and glory, but in humility. He chose not to stop all the suffering in the world—and we struggle to understand why—but he chose to suffer with us.

God is with us. In our joy and in our sorrow. He is with all the children who eyes will light up on Christmas morning when they see their presents wrapped and left under a tree, and he’s with the parents who children are not with them anymore: not this Christmas or any other.

And he is with those children too, for nothing can separate us from the love of God, not even death.

God is with us.

This is the meaning of Christmas, a meaning we easily forget in the rush of the secular holiday. But now, with the chaos still months away, might just be a good time to remember the words of Isaiah that introduce the “Good News” in Mark’s Gospel

The voice of one crying in the wilderness, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.” (Mark 1:3)

Perhaps it’s time to begin “preparing the way” now, long before the mad rush begins. No matter what your faith—or even if you aren’t a person of faith at all—you can meet with people of all faiths and none at the place that Pope Francis described in his widely misreported homily.

And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace . . . If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: we need that so much. We must meet one another doing good.

Now is a good time to focus on “doing good,” on helping the least among us, of sharing the “Christmas spirit” when it isn’t an invitation to runaway consumerism, but when it can be what it should always be.

An invitation to runaway love.

What are some ways we can show the true Christmas spirit, the spirit of love, to the poor and marginalized? Please leaves suggestions, stories, or whatever comes to mind in the comments. Thanks!

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