This Christmas 2023

I can already see our street lined with luminaries.  It is a tradition that our neighborhood has been doing for about 40 years.  I am not sure if we’ll have snowflakes coming down on Christmas Eve as the last few years have been warmer than usual and we have not had snow, but families will be strolling on the sidewalks with their kids, a family-feel to the evening.  The Holy Family will be in my thoughts as I get ready for mass.

I think about Jesus’ birth, and I feel engulfed with love from St. Joseph, our Blessed Mother Mary, and God our Father.  I can see them in the manger, with animals nearby and the shepherds looking in awe.  It is an image that I have drawn from the Bible passages, from readings in school, and from paintings.  It is a picture created by my intellect, my imagination, and my memory.

But being a Christian pushes me to go deeper into my heart and beyond my intellect.  I experience God in my heart as I encounter experiences in life, and if I’m humble enough and don’t get busy in my mind, I can hear God whisper to me expressions of love that God has for me, “John, you are my beloved son.”  I can read as much as I want about God and Jesus, and admire the beautiful art on display, but in the end, I need to experience God in my heart.

As Pope Benedict XVI states, “being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but an encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” (Father Richard Veras in Magnificat, November 2023).

Further, in Benedictus Day by Day (December 24), Pope Benedict XVI states, “God is not a conclusion we have reached by thinking, which we now offer to others in the certainty of our own perception and understanding … when we talk of the living God, it means: this God shows himself to us; he looks out from eternity into time and puts himself into relationship with us.”

Thus, I find myself in relationship with the baby Jesus as I try to practice love, being charitable and merciful.  I look forward to being in relationship with my family and friends.  I give myself with my time and my love for them.  I may also consider giving a gift as an expression of my love.  If you are looking for gift ideas for your children, spouses or relatives, you can visit the Catholics Online website and claim a free Cozy Catholic Christmas Catalog.

But in being together, we share our stories of joy and hardship.  We support each other as Jesus supported the disciples, both in times of laughter but also in distress, like consoling Mary Magdalene at the resurrection (“Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” John 20:11-18) or Peter when he thought he might drown (Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. ‘You of little faith,’ he said, ‘why did you doubt?” Matthew 14:22-33).   These interactions with the disciples extend to me as Jesus takes care of me and loves me.  But I also may reciprocate this love for Jesus.

As the Baby Jesus lays in the manger, I am tempted to pick him up and cradle him in my arms.  He is so fragile and so dependent on us that I want to feed him, change his diaper, maybe rock him to sleep.  I can smell his baby skin and find peace in my heart as I listen to the small breaths.

It is an experience of Jesus loving me and I am also loving the Baby Jesus.  It is this Baby Jesus who takes care of me, soothes me, and loves me.  And in this experience, as my cup is filled, I can pass this love to others, including those I don’t know but I see on the streets as they wonder where they will stay for the night to get relief from the cold.

So, in this Advent Season, as we wait and approach Christmas Eve, I hope you feel Baby Jesus’ unconditional love for you so that in turn you can pass it on.  Merry Christmas and Happy New year!

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