Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
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
Asking the right question
by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register
(From the Jan. 12, 2006 edition of the Inland Register)
By now, the decorations from the great Christmas feast have been snuggled away in closets for another year. Shedding trees have been recycled. Perhaps many of the new toys already are broken. Life has returned to “normal.”
There’s an intriguing question in the air as neighbors reconnect, students return to school, and businesses do their post-holiday restart: “How was your Christmas?”
The questions we ask one another can be quite revealing. “How was your Christmas?” numbers among them in a unique and interesting way.
Usually the phrase is a query about the experience one has had of the rather long holiday break. Or, for the more materialistically minded, it is an inquiry into the number or quality of gifts received from Santa Claus. It’s a polite question which almost has become a cultural post-Christmas greeting.
How people would react if they were asked, “What did God do for you this Christmas?”
I am sure the furrowed brows would be numerous. Many a soul would receive that look which measures sanity at a distance. Real people – normal people – just don’t ask that kind of question. It’s too personal. It’s too uncertain. Oh, maybe putting crčches back on city park lawns and asking to be greeted at the cashier’s kiosk with “Merry Christmas” are battles worth fighting. But let’s not push this living faith business too far!
If we can control Christmas, or at least measure its effect in the normal terms of gifts received and given, dinners attended, or ski trips taken, then we feel comfortable. If we put the focus of the feast on God, then we fall into the realm of mystery and grace. The original Christmas was a God-event, was it not? It was what God did for us, sending us our Savior. Whenever the birth of Jesus occurred, it was unexpected and certainly not the result of committee planning or the satisfaction of someone’s goals and objectives. In the fullness of time – God’s time – the Word became part and parcel of human history and the human experience.
When we stop to reflect, there was nothing particularly full about time in the year we now refer to as Year Zero. It was no more “full” than dates in the 14th Century or now the 21st. People were no more prepared and ready for a Savior then than we are today.
The Incarnation is the awesome gift of God’s unconditional love in the person of Jesus. God made full that particular point in time and we have been celebrating its fullness ever since. The birth of Jesus has changed all time –- forever. That’s why, as a people of faith, we measure all time from the birth of Christ (despite an admitted calendar miscalculation). By the Grace of God, Jesus is the hinge of time; as the incarnate Word of God, he brings to light the significance of all time before and after his time (God’s time).
The new year we have just entered itself takes on significance in light of Jesus. More than 2,000 years since his birth, we still embrace the meaning of our daily lives in terms of who Jesus was and remains for us. But in the midst of our busyness and packed schedules, how easy it is to forget the One who was born of Mary – who lived, ministered, died and rose, all for our salvation, all so that our lives would be full and inspired with the loving presence of God’s kingdom.
In light of such a wonderful gift, it’s rather arrogant (or at least a bit embarrassing) before God to ask one another about our Christmas, expecting only some response about the quality of Christmas dinner, a listing of gifts, or commentary about what we did with our time off from work or school. To ask, “What did God do for you this Christmas?” truly puts Jesus back into the festive celebration. Christmas is neither mine nor yours – as if we had our private hold on the feast. Christmas is a communal event, not just because more than one person celebrates it, but because what God has done in Jesus is for everyone. Christmas is a gift for all humankind.
After the birth, death and Resurrection of Jesus, God did not withdraw from the world with a sense of mission accomplished. Jesus came in a point in time, once and for all time, but God’s saving grace in and through him still is very much a real part of the human experience, whether or not we recognize or acknowledge it. God’s call to our hearts forms the cadence of our lives, even when we resist it. God continues to make Christmas Christmas. Dec. 25 is just a date to mark the reality that at a specific point in time, God’s unconditional, personal love did in fact become a human being in the person of Jesus, son of Mary. No myth here. Rather, it is an historical fact that has changed the world. The Word of God has entered the human arena, where God can address us in a Word we can all understand and embrace. Our Christmas festivities have marked that point in time and that reality.
Our festivities also must note the reality that God continues to speak to us in Christ, now risen from the dead. The first Christmas Day — and every Christmas Day since — is the handiwork of God, which continues to bless us. In fact, because of the revealing love of God, every day truly is Christmas, the opportunity for God’s Word to become incarnate. We focus our attention on this reality at Christmas.
If we just pack up Jesus with the season’s decorations and stuff Him away into the closet of our lives, we miss the point of the feast. Christmas is every day in a profound and wonderful way. Because we are creatures of time who match to seasons and even annual celebrations, Christmas is the reminding celebration that God is indeed “Emmanuel, among us.”
It is only right and just that we should ask, “What did God do for you this Christmas?” If we cannot answer that question, then our celebration was for naught.
(Father Savelesky is pastor of Assumption Parish in Spokane. His book, Catholics
Believe, is available from Harcourt Religion Publishers.)
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