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What Ever Happened To Christmas?

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December 2008

We have a day-after-Thanksgiving tradition in our home.  It’s not turkey croquettes. It’s emptying a closet stuffed with box after box of Christmas decorations. Our home looks best at Christmas time, and over the Thanksgiving weekend it breaks into Christmas bloom.  You name it, we have it: trees, lights, wreaths, Advent calendars and manger scenes, ornaments, carved Santa statues, bells, angels, banners.  And with the sights go the sounds.  Our house wouldn’t feel like Christmas without the music.

We all have favorite Christmas albums (albums?), and one of my wife Kathy’s favorites comes from her childhood.  It’s a Frank Sinatra recording that for years was the only Christmas music her family owned.  They had great taste.  Arguably the best pop crooner of the 20th century, Sinatra sings the gamut, from those J-I-N-G-L-E Bells to our Church’s most profound carols.

One song that has stayed with me is Whatever Happened To Christmas.  Though written as a statement, its title is a question — and a great one.  What did happen to Christmas?  We sing about grandmas getting run over by reindeer.  We buy Nativity scenes portraying baby Jesus as a bird, Mary a cat, and Joseph a dog.  We decorate trees with Coke bottle ornaments.  No doubt Darth Vader is hanging on a branch.  We go to meaningless parties and hand over meaningless gifts.  All too often, we find ourselves overbooked, overdrawn, overwrought, and just waiting for it to be over.

In truth, Ol’ Blue Eyes’ question can only be answered by asking another: what ever happened to us?  There are many explanations, but one stands out among the rest.  We’ve lost our sense of awe, our wonder and reverence for a gift so implausibly planned that only God could have come up with it.

Remember how it all began.  God’s first two of us, His greatest creations, couldn’t control their pride and desire long enough to overcome the temptation to sin.  They lost the Garden, but they didn’t lose all.  For in God’s love He promised a Savior.  Generations followed Adam and Eve, and so did sin, but the Promise was never withdrawn.  Many misunderstood God’s plan; they expected a king who would crush those who held them in captivity.  Then, as now, it was hard to read God’s mind.  They waited and waited: “Why not today?”  But the time was not right.

Until out of the clear blue an angel appeared to a virgin to announce her pregnancy.  Just try to wrap your mind around that thought.  “How can this be for I do not know man?” Mary asked.  “Nothing is impossible for God,” Gabriel replied.  With all eyes on her and her betrothed, Mary and Joseph journeyed forth to be counted as Caesar’s subjects and as God’s faithful ones.  On a cold winter’s night she gave birth to the Promise.  The Babe could look up and see stars that He had fashioned, that He had placed.  God had come to earth! Most people hadn’t a clue.

As the Child grew in size and strength, He grew in stature.  Miraculous things happened.  He walked on water.  He multiplied loaves and fish.  He healed the sick.  He forgave sin.  But He was rejected, made to die a criminal’s death for our sins.  It was a death that the Father had planned.  A Promise dashed?  No, a Promise fulfilled for on the third day He who raised others raised Himself.  By His death and resurrection, we can be saved.  It’s a gift that we’ve never earned.  Nor ever could.

God’s plan for our salvation is even more awesome when we realize that it could have been far different. He could have found an easier way.  Instead, He chose to come to earth as a human.  And He chose to save us through the active involvement of humans.  Jesus was born of Mary because that pregnant unwed teenager freely said yes to the Plan.  The same God-given free will that allowed Adam and Eve to choose death allowed Mary to choose life.  She did not know where her yes would lead her.  But she understood that there could be no better path than the one God had mapped.

If we are going to recapture the meaning of Christmas, then Christmas must become far more than a time to pull out the decorations and music.  It must become our time for being in awe of a God who loved us enough to be one of us—and who continues to work through us.  It must be our time to see God’s eyes in the eyes of His children, to feel His hand in their touch.  And it must be our time to remember that in each unborn child, far more than the miracle of life is at work.  The awesome Plan of God is continuing to reveal itself.  We need not be pregnant to say yes to it.  We do so by an active ongoing commitment to respect and revere the life that only He can create.  Like Mary, we have no idea where our yes will lead us.  But we know that it is the best way.

God so loved the world that He sent His only Son.   He still comes, and through each human being, no matter the circumstances of her conception.  Born or unborn, each human life is His expression of love.  The mere thought should leave us speechless.

What ever happened to Christmas?  It’s still here for those who let themselves say yes to the awe.  May it be you.

Merry Christmas!

Paul V. Esposito is a Catholic lawyer who writes on a variety of pro-life topics.  He and his wife Kathy live in Elmhurst, Illinois, where they raise their six kids.

© Paul V. Esposito 2008.  Culture of Life.  Permission to copy and distribute for pro-life purposes is granted.  Visit us on the web at http://www.the-culture-of-life.com/

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