I celebrated my 80th birthday on November 28th!! I’ve reached that point in my life where I have stopped writing my resume and have begun to write my obituary. A resume details your achievements. An obituary expresses how you want to be remembered and what kind of blessings you want to leave behind for others.
On this my 80th Christmas I am finding it hard to capture the mood of Christmas. About the only thing that still warms my heart are memories, memories of younger, more naïve days when the lights and carols, Christmas trees and gifts, really excited me. Today – so much commercialism!
So how can I try to romanticize the pilgrimage of one poor couple searching for shelter two thousand years ago amidst the plight of the millions of refugees today who are journeying without even a stable as a refuge? How can I talk about peace on earth with the coming election that has polarized our nation and left millions of people unable to speak civilly to their family members and friends? There is anything but peace in Gaza and Ukraine.
In my own life, there has been the deaths of loved ones, lost health, tiredness and frustration. How do I celebrate the birth of a redeemer in a world which looks shockingly unredeemed and with hearts that mostly feel heavy and fatigued? How do I believe that God came down from heaven, took on human flesh, conquered all suffering, and altered human history?
This isn’t easy to believe amidst all the evidence that seems to contradict it. I have to keep on telling myself that Christmas is not a magical event. The birth of Jesus speaks of humiliation, pain, and forced fleeing which is not unlike that being experienced by millions of refugees and victims of injustice and war on our planet today. The Christmas story mirrors the struggle that’s being experienced within our own world and within our own tired and frustrated hearts.
I have to keep on telling myself that the Incarnation is not the Resurrection. Flesh in Jesus, as in us, is human, vulnerable, weak, needy, and painfully full of limits and suffering. Christmas celebrates Christ’s birth into these things, not his running from them. Christ was born to redeem evil, sin and pain. Jesus could not stop them from happening. Once we fully accept that truth, we can celebrate Christ’s birth without in any way denying or trivializing the real evil in our world and our own pain. Christmas is a challenge for me to celebrate while I am still in pain.
Jesus is Emmanuel, God-is-with-us. God is with us like never before. Our world remains wounded, and wars, selfishness, and bitterness linger on. Reality is harsh and Christmas does not ask us to do a make-believe. The Incarnation does not promise heaven on earth. It promises heaven in heaven. Here, on earth, it promises us something else – God’s presence in our lives. This presence redeems because knowing that God is with us is what ultimately empowers us to give up bitterness, to forgive, and to move beyond cynicism and bitterness.
On this my 80th Christmas, I am trying to celebrate it heartily. I know I won’t feel the same excitement I did as a child when I was excited about tinsel, lights, Christmas trees and special gifts. I’ll never find that excitement again in life. But I can find something more important –- the sense that God is with me and with all of us in life, in our joys as well as in our struggles. The Word was made flesh. That’s an incredible thing that an 80-year old guy like me needs to celebrate. I pray that you too will celebrate The Word made flesh with me this Christmas!!
Thanks to Brett Sayles for the photo.
Have a Blessed Christmas!! Celebrate the Word made flesh in YOUR heart today!!!
CHRISTMAS BEGAN IN THE HEART OF GOD! IT IS ONLY COMPLETE WHEN IT REACHES YOUR HEART AND MINE!! HAVE A BLESSED CHRISTMAS!!
Fr. Med Laz
I’m getting many calls and emails on this my Christmas Message. Be sure to share it with others. And be sure to listen to this Christmas message on my Podcast: Treatsforthesoul.org.