Once again, the season of the Nativity of Christ is upon us. We find ourselves on a familiar path that will ultimately lead us to the cave where our Savior is born. With His Mother, accompanied by Joseph her betrothed, the shepherds, the wise men, the animals and the angelic hosts, we all gaze, awestruck, by what we see before our very eyes: God, no longer the invisible deity, but among us, in the flesh as an infant.
Our familiarity with this great feast day can easily diminish the proper reverence we owe it. It’s not difficult to find our heart, mind and thoughts drifting away from the true meaning of the Nativity. With bombardment of seasonal advertisement our attention quickly turns towards the commercialization that has become deeply associated with Christmas. Companies lure our attention to what they have to offer, promising us real happiness and a sense of meaning if only we acquire their products.
It’s interesting though. We’re more likely to acquiesce to such allurements when we are less spiritually sober. When life is going well we are more apt to buy in to the snappy tag lines and fanciful images. When faced with difficult and sometimes tragic events, such as poor health or the loss of a loved one, the last thing we want is some sort of product that promises us happiness or a sense of purpose in life. Therefore, it’s important to keep before our mind’s eye the fact that, while we are in the world we are not of it and that being tied to the worldly things is ill-advised. Christmas, from what we gather from television commercials and department stores, is anything but about the gift of Jesus Christ to the world. It’s up to each and every one of us to always remember that what we are celebrating is not what sort of gifts we can receive from others, but the Gift of all gifts, the Son of God becoming man in order to unite His divine nature with our fallen nature, to unite us with Himself for our salvation.
Products are necessary for us to survive in this world for practical reasons, but many products are unnecessary. The marketing world does a stellar job at convincing us that unless we have a certain product we are somehow not complete. The reality of course is that we are made complete in and through our life in Christ. What people really desire are things money can’t buy.
I think if we were to ask people what they would really like to have for Christmas, if they could truly have anything, we would hear things like: hope, because life throws at us difficult circumstances that create in us feelings of discouragement, doubt, and despair; peace, because many couples, parents and siblings are exhausted from conflict, of not feeling heard, or understood; healing, because we and others whom we love are hurting from illnesses associated with physical and emotional pain and suffering; love, because sadly, many people don’t really perceive this from others – if they do, it’s something they’ve had to earn, or prove themselves worthy of.
Products that are wanted but not needed can bring us a temporary sense of happiness, and make life seem okay for a while. In the end, though, there is only one source of hope, one source of peace, and one source of healing and love and that’s Jesus Christ who provides us with all that is needed for our salvation.
St. John Chrysostom said, “happiness can only be achieved by looking inward and learning to enjoy whatever life has, which requires transforming greed into gratitude.” Looking inward, enjoying what life has to offer, and living in gratitude: these compose the path to the things we truly desire.
The greatest gift the world has ever known and will ever know is the birth of God in the flesh. This is a gift that we can never repay, even if we lived a thousand lifetimes.
Even though they brought gifts to the newborn child, the wise men were the ones who were the true recipients of the greatest gift. May we remember that while we exchange gifts this year on Christmas, we are beneficiaries of the greatest Gift of all, one that will not break or one day become useless, the Gift of the Person of Jesus Christ with whom we have been united, and in Whom we find hope, peace, healing and love.