Christmas prepares us for new beginnings Print
Seeing with Jesus' Eyes
Thursday, Dec. 29, 2011 -- 12:00 AM

In John 3:16 it says, “For God so loved the world that God gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish, but might have eternal life.”

Gilbert Keith Chesterton wrote that out of love for us, “The hands that made the sun and stars were too small to reach the huge heads of the cattle and too tiny to change his own clothes or put food in his mouth. To share God’s love, Jesus experienced infant helplessness.”

Scripture tells us that God created us in his image. Since God is love, we image God best when we love. But sin keeps us from loving.

When Christ took a human nature, he modeled for us how to love, died for our sins, and sent the Holy Spirit to grace us to love more fully as he loved. Christ became like us so that we could become more like him.

In communion with the Lamb

St. Francis of Assisi, who had a special love for the Eucharist, popularized the Christmas crib. The crib reminds us that Christ was born in Bethlehem, which means “House of Bread.”

He was gently placed in a feeding trough to indicate that he would feed us with the Eucharist as the Bread of Life. The Spotless Lamb would die on the cross, rise, and feed us with his body and blood. The stone manger reminds us of his tomb and his swaddling clothes — strips of cloth — remind us of burial cloths.

When we receive the Eucharist, we enter into communion with Jesus and with one another. Unlike other food, which becomes part of us, when we receive Jesus in the Eucharist worthily, we become more like him. We, too, are to be bread for the world by living a Christ-like life.

Christ, the Living Bread, sustains us and prepares us for that day when we will come to the heavenly banquet. The Eucharist is a pledge of future glory.

Faith begins with the family

We celebrate Holy Family Sunday a few days after Christmas. Doing so reminds us that Jesus was raised in a family where in his human nature, he grew in wisdom, understanding, and knowledge under the guidance of Mary and Joseph.

In no. 1656 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it says, “The Second Vatican Council, using an ancient expression, calls the family the Ecclesia domestica or domestic church. It is in the bosom of the family that parents are ‘by word and example . . . the first heralds of the faith with regard to their children. They should encourage them in the vocation which is proper to each child, fostering with special care any religious vocation.’”

In no. 2252 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it says, “Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children in the faith, prayer, and all the virtues.”

The Christmas season offers us opportunities to gather as families and deepen family ties. We can worship God as a family, thank God for the gift of our family, or give them the present of quality presence.

Someone told me that their family gives their aged mother a calendar. On the calendar they write in visits or telephone calls they promise to share. This enables them to commit to giving the gift of quality time and helps their intentions to become flesh.

Mary offers a new beginning

We begin New Year’s by celebrating the feast of the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. God, the Father, wanted the best possible mother to give his son a human nature. So he chose Mary. She became Jesus’ mother, his greatest disciple and mother of her Son’s Church. By consenting to become the mother of Jesus, Mary offered a new beginning to the human race.

This poem by Howard Thurman invites us to new beginnings after Christmas:

When the song of the angels is stilled,

When the kings and princes are home

When the shepherds are back with their flocks,

The work of Christmas begins

To find the lost, to heal the broken,

To feed the hungry, to release prisoners,

To build the nations, to bring peace

And to make music with the heart.

Renew openness to God’s will

After the Christmas season ends, the Church invites us to new beginnings as we respond to the graces of January. These include participating in Vocation Awareness Week, Catholic Schools Week, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, remembering the Roe vs. Wade decision and recommitting ourselves to pro-life, and more.

Inspired by Christ and Mary, his mother, let us pray for the grace to make 2012 a year in which we grow closer to God. Let us renew our devotion to the Blessed Mother, who through her consent and openness to God’s will helped the human race to new beginnings. Let us pray for grace to do God’s will as Mary did.

Fr. Don Lange is a pastor emeritus in the Diocese of Madison.