We can no longer assume that people know the meaning of Christmas. A child recently asked about the significance of Christmas replied: “it is when Santa Claus was born.”
The child is right about the birth part, and birth is always a moment of rejoicing and wonder.
Shepherds and kings were captivated by the helpless child is a Bethlehem stable. In this child they recognized not only a new human life, but a turning point in the relationship between God and people.
Until this moment, generations had sought to please and appease a God they perceived to be distant. Now, in this Bethlehem event, God had bridged the distance by journeying into human existence. Now God had taken on flesh, to walk earthly roads and to speak human language to those in need.
Christmas is not primarily about remembering an historical event layered with the nostalgia of cultural and family traditions. In Christmas we celebrate that God is today transforming everyday earthly existence into robust and lively life.
As Pope Benedict reminds us:
“where God is seen, does life truly begin. Only when we meet the living God in Christ do we know what life is. We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary. There is nothing more beautiful than to be surprised by the Gospel, by the encounter with Christ. There is nothing more beautiful than to know Him and to speak to others of our friendship with Him”.
Pope Benedict in his first papal homily, 24 April 2005
a Bethlehem cave
a sign marking a spot – in Bethlehem