I hope your Christmas tree is still up and decorated. At our house, we have only just begun to celebrate the 12 days of Christmas. As much as I really try to keep a prayerful meditation for the Advent season leading up to Christmas, the chaotic atmosphere is tough to keep away. Somehow it creeps in and threatens to take over. In addition to that pressure to succumb to the holiday stress preparations, we were in the final days of publication for my first book. We were so concerned with last-minute edits and publication to fulfill pre-orders of signed books before Christmas that our gradual Christmas decorating was done in a whirlwind just a week ago.
In the midst of all the business my doctor’s office called to tell me that my blood work was off and I should take precautions to not be exposed to infections while I had time to heal. I decided that shopping in crowds at Tanger, on the last weekend before Christmas was not a good option when your white blood count is low. My prayers were answered. Now I could really avoid Christmas shopping all together! My 24-year-old daughter who lives in D.C. and loves to shop gladly took on the Santa role as I put cash in her bank account. Instead of braving the crowds, I settled in next to my newly decorated Christmas tree, sipping hot coffee and signed up for a free 30-day trial of Amazon Prime. It guaranteed free delivery in time for Christmas.
Our Christmas celebrations began with Mass on Christmas Eve and the familiar carols drew me in to the peace of the season. All my children were with us and it, even though we were scattered over a few pews, my daughters’ voices rose above the crowds singing those sweet Christmas songs proclaiming the birth of our newborn King. Our Christmas Eve guest list shrunk as other families’ commitments changed and we found ourselves waiting for one very special guest, our dear friend who is a Rabbi. We opened our Christmas Eve dinner with the lighting of the eight candles on the colorful Menorah, reminding us of the foundations of our faith and the triumph of light over darkness. It was the perfect way to begin Christmas. I think we shall include Hanukkah every year as a part of our Advent preparations for the birth of Christ.
That quiet Christmas Eve began a meditation that really helped me to appreciate the true gift of Christmas; the mystery of incarnate love. The Old Testament is a love story between God and his people. It tells of God’s creative love which was poured out and expressed in the gift of the law and the call of the prophets. The Old Testament is filled with the promises and prophecies of a messiah; Emmanuel, who would be God with us.
Then God came to earth.
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…The Word became flesh and dwelt among us…..Out of his fullness we have all received grace following upon grace… For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:5, 14, 17)
Isn’t that quite amazing? God became man and was born in the womb of Mary. No longer do we have a God who stands by and guides us, intervening in history to show us His saving love. Now, we have a Savior who became one of us, giving us not only an example of holiness, but also the means and the power to become holy too. I find that to be an incredibly precious gift.
Today is only the fourth day of Christmas. As Catholics, this Sunday our family celebrates the Feast of the Holy Family. On this feast, and throughout the 12 days of Christmas, we invite other families to our home and we decorate our table with images of the holy family. We celebrate that Jesus was born into a family like ours to show us that miracles happen in ordinary families just like our family.
We also have mangers in almost every room of the house. We don’t put them in the bathroom. I tried one year, but everyone told me it was creepy. In most of the mangers, baby Jesus isn’t in his little bed. He’s in Mary’s arms. My son started that tradition when he was just three years old. Over the years, as our pet family grew, so did the animals at the manger. There are many dogs and cats in the manger. One yellow lab in particular, was assigned as a service dog to the baby Jesus the year Johanna got her service dog from CCI.
This year, we will celebrate with singles, couples, priests, nuns and husbands and wives with their children, young and old. We are all holy families, not because we’re perfect, but because we are loved. God loved us all so much that He was born into the world as one of us. This is the beautiful mystery of incarnate love; God put on human flesh and became one of us just because He loves us.
This weekend, I celebrated Christmas with my 90-year-old Mom, for the first time in 20 years. She’s never seen my house decorated for Christmas. It was precious to celebrate this gift of Christ’s birth with my Mom and my brother and sister-in-law. It was a fun time and a holy time, all because God became man and gave us a reason to celebrate and to hope.
In the same way that God clothed himself with our humanity, we can clothe ourselves with the fruits of God’s love:
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Colossians 3:12-14)
This Christmas season, I wish for you to see holiness in your everyday lives, most especially in your families.
With all the hustle-bustle of Christmas, it’s easy to lose focus on the true meaning of the holiday: God became human to be with us because he loves us
Eileen Benthal is a writer, speaker and wellness coach with a B.A. in Theology from Franciscan University. She is the author of Breathing Underwater: A Caregiver’s Journey of Hope.
Eileen and her husband Steve live in Jamesport and have four young adult children. Their youngest, Johanna, is a teenager with special needs.
Eileen can be reached at FreeIndeedFreelance.com.