Be not afraid! For behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will come to all people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
Christmas is such a magical time. I remember when I was a child making long lists of desired gifts and dreaming of how happy I would be to play with them. I never slept well on Christmas Eve; I would check the clock every hour until it was finally time to get up. We children would gather excitedly at the top of the stairs and wait for our parents to turn on the lights; it seemed to take them forever. As we opened each gift Dad tried to catch candid shots of the surprised looks on our faces. I loved to line up all my toys on the couch and play with them one by one. We usually ate a wonderful breakfast, at which time we might remember to put the Christ Child in our family crèche and read the Gospel account of the birth of Jesus. That afternoon as I played with each toy, a feeling of sadness would settle in. I tried to enjoy what I had been given but I could not shake the feeling of disappointment. Was this all? The wonderful toys and gifts had not quite delivered the joy I had hoped for.

A close look at the first Christmas reveals a different sort of Christmas magic. I suggest that you take the time to turn to the Gospel of Luke and imagine yourself celebrating Christmas with Mary and Joseph. They were strangers in a town not their own. As the time drew near for the birth they were unable to find room in a home or an inn. They finally settled for a stable; baby Jesus’ first bed was a borrowed feeding trough. That night, poor shepherds shivering in the chilly winter saw a vision of angels and heard Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will among men. Abandoning their sheep, they searched everywhere until they found the tiny baby. Then they glorified and praised God and told everyone about the marvels they had seen and heard.

Joy to the World, the Lord is Come; Let Earth receive her King! Let every heart prepare Him room…
Generations ago Christmas was a profoundly religious moment. The high point for many was Midnight Mass, celebrated with all the pomp and circumstance that a parish could muster. People had very little. Families exchanged home-made gifts, drank strange drinks like wassail and partied on through Epiphany. They may have even actually eaten fruitcake, but that is doubtful. Modern advances have given us so many more things and sources of pleasure than our ancestors had, but this has not brought us any closer to joy. The myth that we tend to believe is that joy is just around the corner – one more toy, one more piece of candy, a better job, a new romantic relationship. Yet try as we might, we never seem to achieve the peace and joy that we seek. God knows our prayers and longings and this Christmas he could have wrapped up what we are looking for. He could have given us Peace on Earth, a better job, a cure for cancer, or even a new car or television. But once again, just like the first Christmas, God gives the same gift: His Son. This means that his Son is a better than everything else on our list.

How does the baby answer our longings? God is love (1 John 4:16), and he made us in his image and likeness (Gen. 1). That means that we were made to love and be loved. Ultimately, though, what we seek is completely beyond this world. Our fulfillment can only be found in a relationship with God. St. Augustine searched in many religions and worldly things before becoming Christian. He famously said, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” We feel restless because nothing on earth can satisfy. But the good news of Christmas is that not only are we seeking God but He is also seeking us. We will find true satisfaction only in a Friendship with Him. This is why, when he cared enough to send his very best, he Himself came as Emmanuel: God with us.

The presence of Christ in our world is the true gift of Christmas. As with any child, accepting the Christ Child means a lifetime commitment. But accepting Him is the only path to Peace on Earth and peace in our hearts. The shepherds left their sheep to go and find the true Lamb of God. The wise men left their kingdoms to go and find the true King of Kings. This Christmas, God invites us to leave our gifts to go and find the true Gift of God. May the Child fulfill your deepest desire, and fill your home and heart with peace.

Blessings to you on the Birthday of our Savior!

Fr. Joel

Originally published as an article in the parish bulletin.