Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Spirituality: Where's your list?

by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register

(From the Dec. 18, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)

Father Michael Savelesky Where’s your list? No one needs to remind us to make lists as the great feast of Christmas draws nigh. The lists multiply:

Christmas card lists.

A list of guests for Christmas dinner.

A list of gifts to buy.

A list (at least in our hearts) of gifts to get.

Calendared lists of parties to attend (or give).

The list of people to visit or call.

The count-down list of shopping days ‘til X day.

The proverbial pre-Christmas honey-dew lists.

Whether or not any of these lists actually have found their way to paper, we all know their pressure. Even if we are not into their making, our consumer-oriented culture makes sure that we march to the cadence of their demands.

Sped along by the need to respond to these lists, we very soon will find ourselves engulfed once again by Christmas. Dec. 25 is very close at hand. Perhaps we will breathe a sigh of relief after the day has passed. That would be rather telling.

The fanfare and hectic pace that surround Christmas remind me of the time some buddies and I encountered a rather noisy party at a local restaurant. One of our number played the role of curious cat, venturing carefully into the fracas. Pulling a non-suspecting, pain-free party animal aside, he queried, “Why all the excitement? What are you people celebrating?”

Half intelligibly, the man chortled, “I really don’t know. But it sure is fun!” And back to the frivolity he went.

It strikes me that nowadays our celebration of Christmas may be just as shallow and lacking in focus, if we are not attentive. Should someone call us list-makers aside and ask what all our fuss is about, what would be our response? Why does the celebration of the birth of a Baby in Bethlehem (and 2003 years ago at that!) make this such a merry occasion?

Would we respond, “I really don’t know, but it sure is fun!” After all, everyone loves a party. It’s fun to give and receive gifts. It’s fun to have friends and family close at hand. It’s fun to have a break from school. It’s fun to have extra time to ski.

Even if we should brave a confession of faith – that Jesus is the reason for the season – what is there about the birth of this particular little Baby that makes us so unusually happy? So overflow-ingly happy that we greet each other with the extension of its merriment: “Merry Christmas!”

Jesus is more than just another cute baby. His birth was more than an object of warmth to the hearts of shepherds, wise men and neighborhood curiosity seekers. Everyone loves to greet a new-born child.

When I raised the why-the-merriment question with a group of students recently, one young voice gleefully announced that “this Baby grew up and died so that we would be freed from our sins.” Exactly! No, I didn’t pay her ahead of time to make such an insightful and brilliant response. She obviously had heard – and knew clearly – the essence of the Good News of the Christmas Feast.

The babe in the manger is the Word of God made flesh – the very gift of God’s self-revealing and saving love. Without the “rest of the story” there is no special merriment in Christmas – save that which the face of any new-born would evoke as we recognize the reflection of our own original innocence and innate goodness. The actual lived history of this child – Son of God and son of Mary – is what makes even the celebration of his birth an occasion of festive joy.

Christmas and redemption from sin are a bit challenging to relate. But without the connection, Christmas would be barrel of fun without any lasting joy or transforming effect. It would lack its essence. The birth – and eventually the life, death and Resurrection – of this Baby has defined once and for all time God’s relationship with us. We sons and daughters of God, sinners that we are, are loved – redeemed and forgiven!

Our culture does not readily support a fully Christ-focused celebration of Christmas – even if shops close (at least for a couple hours) and seasonal decorations abound. At best, newscasters merely champion its relativity. “Merry Christmas! to Christians; Happy Hanukkah! to Jews; Happy Kwanzaa! to African Americans; Joyful Winter Break! to school kids.” No one is left out in the attempt to be sensitive to everyone – except the real Jesus and his real role in human history.

Christmas is the celebration of more than a concept with universal theological appeal. It is the celebration of historical reality. It is not relative. The “X” in X-Mass is Jesus of Nazareth; not just whatever meets our fancy.

Our celebration of Christmas must either maintain its focus or lose the power of its truth. We cannot afford to let the Good News of God’s love get lost in the merriment of a cultural fracas which is stifled by its own weighty, obliging list of lists. Subsequently, short of asking the pope to assign an official date for the Christian celebration of Christmas (how’s July 23 sound?), I’d like to suggest that when people arrive at the church doors to celebrate Christmas Mass the ushers ask them for a list – a list of their sins! Of course, such a daring request is but the figment of my imagination. A shocking question like, “Where’s your list?” however, just may help maintain proper focus on the grace-filled reality we gather to celebrate. The more we recognize our need to face the uncomfortable reality of sin in our lives and our absolute powerlessness to redeem ourselves, the more we will understand why Christmas is so special. The more we recognize our need for a personal Savior, the more the celebration of the birth of the One who died for our sins will make this truly a joyous season. Merry Christmas!

(Father Savelesky is pastor of Assumption Parish in Spokane. His book, Catholics Believe, is available from Harcourt Religion Publishers.) (Download an order form in pdf format to print)

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