During Advent or Philip’s Fast we see car magnets and an occasional billboard which say, “Keep Christ in Christmas.” Since you are reading this, you are most likely in agreement with the perennial plea to Keep Christ in Christmas.
Did you ever take the time to pray over what it means to keep Christ in Christmas? The obvious answer is to say Merry Christmas rather than the bland Happy Holidays. I would like to suggest that keeping Christ in Christmas consists of much, much more than saying “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy holidays”; “Christmas tree” instead of “holiday tree”; or Christmas party instead of holiday party. What if I brought a cake decoration which says on it “Merry Christmas” to a Christmas party but did not bring a cake? The “Merry Christmas” cake decoration might look nice, but something would be missing. It just doesn’t stand by itself; it is meant to be put on a cake. Similarly, the proclamation “Merry Christmas” doesn’t stand by itself.
So how do we keep Christ in Christmas? We can begin with what the Church encourages us to do during Philip’s fast: more fervent prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
We can make Sacred Scripture part of our prayer. In fact, this Sunday’s reading from Saint Paul’s letter to the Colossians (3:12-17) is a beautiful and succinct “recipe” for keeping Christ in Christmas:
12Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, 13bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. 14And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. 15And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful. 16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. 17And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Where do we begin? Saint Paul described what a community of Christians looks like when they allow their hearts to conformed to the heart of Christ by the Holy Spirit! This is an invitation to a life with Jesus Christ at its center. It is an invitation to live the Beatitudes (which were read from Luke’s Gospel at the Divine Liturgy for the Feast of Saint Nicholas). A person or a parish community whose hearts are not growing in conformity to the heart of Christ is like a Merry Christmas cake decoration without the cake.
If this passage from Colossians was written like a recipe, it might read something like this:
- 1 T of heartfelt compassion,
- 1 T of kindness,
- 1 T of humility,
- 1 T of gentleness, and
- 2 T of patience.
13[Add] as many pinches of forgiveness as is needed, for as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do.
14[Thoroughly mix in a lot of] love, that is, the bond of perfection.
15And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful.
16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another,
singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.
17And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
It is all here: Love of God manifested in our gratitude to Him and our joyful worship; and love of neighbor manifested by our heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, our willingness to forgive. This is the essence of keeping Christ in Christmas. This is also how we evangelize.
During the coming Christmas holiday-season we our parishes will see a number of visitors for the Divine Liturgy. Some will be back from school or visiting family. Some will be here as they are every year for Christmas, perhaps out of a sense of obligation or nostalgia, and not to be seen again until Easter. Some will come seeking God, and others will be curious about this Byzantine church they drive or walk by day after day.
How much will visitors be able to see, feel, and hear our love of God and one another? How much will they sense our gratitude to God? Will visitors say, “this parish is special, I can sense the presence of God in this community”? Will they see members of our communities saying yes to God’s call to die to self and love others? The answers to these questions depend upon each and every one of us. What we do may very well influence whether they will return sooner than later.
How have you let your heart be conformed to the heart of Jesus? In what ways is God asking you to keep Christ in Christmas this year? Will each of us respond to God’s call with the same “Yes” that Our Lady the Theotokos gave?
Five years ago Pope Francis wrote the Evangelii Gaudium, The Joy of the Gospel. It was and remains a call to evangelization. The Holy Father ended his apostolic exhortation with a prayer:
Mary, Virgin and Mother, you who, moved by the Holy Spirit,
welcomed the word of life in the depths of your humble faith:
as you gave yourself completely to the Eternal One,
help us to say our own “yes”
to the urgent call, as pressing as ever,
to proclaim the good news of Jesus….
Obtain for us now a new ardour born of the resurrection,
that we may bring to all the Gospel of life
which triumphs over death.
Give us a holy courage to seek new paths,
that the gift of unfading beauty
may reach every man and woman.
Virgin of listening and contemplation,
Mother of love, Bride of the eternal wedding feast,
pray for the Church, whose pure icon you are,
that she may never be closed in on herself
or lose her passion for establishing God’s kingdom.
Star of the new evangelization,
help us to bear radiant witness to communion,
service, ardent and generous faith,
justice and love of the poor,
that the joy of the Gospel
may reach to the ends of the earth,
illuminating even the fringes of our world.
Mother of the living Gospel,
wellspring of happiness for God’s little ones,
pray for us.
May we, as individuals and communities of believers, make this a Christmas to remember where Christ is front and center throughout this Christmas season.
By: Fr. Deacon Thomas P. Shubeck