I have many great memories of spending Christmas at my Grandma and Grandpa Whitehill’s house. They had a large older home in Independence, Missouri. My grandpa was Harry Truman’s milkman!
Grandma and Grandpa had a large blended family and truly loved Christmas, especially because my grandpa never had much of a Christmas when he was a young man.
Their house was heavily decorated. One of the most striking features was the stockings they hung on their mantle. They had so many family members they had to add boards on to the mantle to fit everyone’s stocking. It was quite a sight. They also loved gifts, big and small, and despite modest means, they would buy something for every member of the family.
And then there was the food! We never left a holiday meal hungry, and we would put everything away only to get it out hours later for the next round.
These are wonderful memories, but once the food is eaten, the presents opened, and the stockings taken down, there’s a sort of emptiness. I think it’s because, while these things are good, they are not what the true meaning of Christmas is about.
Christmas is about God’s love for us. It’s about Him choosing to come among us to teach us about His love for us but also to teach us how to love one another. That is the true meaning of Christmas.
If we don’t have Christmas in our hearts, we won’t find it under a tree. If we do have the true spirit of Christmas in our hearts, it doesn’t end after the tree is taken down. It lasts all year long.
Over the next weeks, there will be many people at Church who haven’t been there for a while. I am so happy they will be there, and God is too.
Some of us will be tempted to wonder why they haven’t been coming. Perhaps a better thing to ponder is what brought them here now and how we can help them continue to come. Just as a bright star guided the shepherds, God has guided them to Him for this Christmas season.
God chose to reveal Himself and His Son first to lowly shepherds, and God has chosen to reveal Himself, despite our limitations and imperfections, to us. He will take the gifts we give to Him, no matter how insignificant they may be, and use them for His glory, if we let Him.
Whatever or whoever led us to Christmas, today is an opportunity to grow. The shepherds ultimately had to leave the stable, but they didn’t lose the presence of Jesus in their lives.
That’s the difference between joy and happiness. Happiness may be fleeting, but with joy there is permanence. Joy is an understanding that no matter what else happens in our life, we are loved by God, and He is with us.
Jesus is especially with us in the Eucharist. As Catholics, we believe that Jesus is truly with us each time we receive the Eucharist. It is not a sign. It is not a symbol. It is Jesus Himself: truly present in His body, blood, soul, and divinity.
We must take our joy filled encounter with Jesus in the Christmas liturgy and in the Eucharist and allow it to grow in our hearts and lives throughout this entire Christmas season and New Year to come. What a privilege it is to take the light of Christ in to a world we know so desperately needs it, and how powerful to think that our Christmas welcome to the strangers among us could make our churches more full during the new year to come.