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The Materialism of Christmas

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Fourth Sunday of Advent (B)  |  On the cusp of Christmas, Deacon Luke Doherty points to the real, material event of the Incarnation and how it is fittingly celebrated. 

Christmas is a time of year when we are bombarded with material things. We see, smell, taste and hear this festive time of year and are reminded of the infant birth with Christmas cards, songs, nativity sets, decorations. The gifts that we exchange with friends, family and colleagues are symbolic of the gifts given by the Three wise men to the infant Jesus. Of course, the best Christmas present is given to every person on earth - that is, Hope in the Word made flesh. Sometimes people go on about the real meaning of Christmas, but I think it just boils down to this - Christmas is a time for contemplating the mystery of the Incarnation; contemplating this gift of hope, and the mystery of this wee baby Jesus being born in a manger, in a humble stable, with the Holy Family around him, born both human and divine in nature. 

As we read in this Sunday’s Gospel, Mary was chosen by God, even before she was born, to be the creature who would be asked to bear the Son of God. Christ’s birth sanctified the virginity of Mary, and her spiritual motherhood extends to all of humanity whom Christ came to save. The Christmas story has the theme of the Son of Man being born into this world, into a somewhat destitute situation with no proper accommodation, in the busy town of Jerusalem during a census. But it all worked out fantastically. The story of the birth of Jesus is one of hope in adverse conditions. Soon after being born, the Holy family ended up as refugees, going into Egypt. The Son of Man, the Word made flesh - ended up just like the millions of refugees who have fled the Middle East because of Islamic State, or due to some other form of persecution. But, good prevailed over the wickedness of Herod. The Christmas mystery that is full of hope is, of course, concluded thirty-something years later with the Passion, death and resurrection of this same infant Jesus. This supernatural series of events, culminates in this promise: that if we believe in Christ and act meritoriously in the sight of God, we will have eternal life. Jesus had to be born into this world, and die in the way that He did, for this to be possible. 

In the story of the Nativity, there is also the theme of courage. The courage of Mary in accepting the message of the Angel Gabriel, accepting her role as handmaid of the Lord. We later see the courage and the perseverance of Joseph, in accepting his role in the Holy Family. Then we have the courage of the three wise men who risk everything in defiance of King Herod, after being led by supernatural forces to the baby Jesus. 

It is fitting that we enjoy Christmas as a material and real celebration, to mark the nativity of the Lord. The incarnation was a real, material event in human history and was vitally important in bringing a message of hope to the world. It is good and appropriate to celebrate Christmas, to have material gifts, food, and all the things that make this a special time of year. A time of year which is material and sensory, is appropriate given that the Son of Man also had the same senses that we have. We smell the smells of Christmas - the mulled wine, the cloves and cinnamon, the roasting turkey and puddings. We hear the Christmas carols, and more importantly we hear and experience the Christmas liturgy as we approach the celebration of the Nativity of our Lord.The Lord Jesus is made present to us in real food, something we can see and taste. The Eucharist is our spiritual food, made as real to us as the experience of Christmas, through our senses. What we experience in the Eucharist is the everlasting result of the incarnation, which is the victory and joy that results from the Passion and resurrection of Jesus.

2 Sam 7:1-5. 8-12. 14. 16 |  Rom 16:25-27  |  Luke 1:26-38

Photograph by Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P. of the Annunciation by Peter Candid.

Luke Doherty O.P.

Fr Luke Doherty is assistant priest at Holy Cross, Leicester, and Catholic Chaplain to HMP Leicester |


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