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Opinion

Celebrating Christmas … As If for the First Time

By Denis C. Grasska

Denis Grasska“FOUL WEATHER MAY POSTPONE CHRISTMAS.”

The preceding announcement appears as a newspaper headline in the opening scenes of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (1964). 

Only a few seconds later, Sam the Snowman (voiced by Burl Ives) repeats this astonishing claim, telling us that the weather was so bad one winter that, “well, you might not believe it, but the world almost missed Christmas.”

With all due respect to Mr. Snowman, it IS pretty hard to believe that the entire Christmas holiday could be cancelled because of inclement weather. Exactly how would a snowstorm prevent faithful Christians from taking a day to rejoice in and reflect on our Savior’s birth?

One is tempted to wonder if Sam the Snowman has any idea what Christmas is really all about. But then again, perhaps we should cut him a little slack. He is, after all, a man composed entirely out of snow. How much better have the rest of us done when it comes to recognizing the true meaning of Christmas?

As countless seasonal billboards have told us, “Jesus is the Reason for the Season.” Buttons and bumper stickers have urged us to “Keep Christ in Christmas.” But despite these reminders and exhortations, we are often so distracted by our holiday preparations that one of the most sacred days of the year (second only to Easter) can pass us by, completely unexamined. In short, we often take the day for granted.

But what can we do to recapture the meaning of Christmas? How can we come to appreciate once again the incomprehensible mystery of the Incarnation – the moment when our omnipotent God humbled Himself to share our humanity? Who can help us to regain our sense of mystery and wonder about this divinely revealed truth?

For starters, let's turn to G.K. Chesterton, a former atheist who became one of Catholicism’s most articulate defenders. In The Everlasting Man, one of his most famous non-fiction works, Chesterton asks readers to make an “imaginative effort to see the whole thing from the outside,” to look upon the history of the human race, the person of Jesus Christ and the existence of the Catholic Church as things unfamiliar and previously unknown, and to recognize once again their uniqueness.

Perhaps what we really need to do is to heed Chesterton’s advice and find a way to celebrate Christmas as if for the first time.

In a chapter entitled “The God in the Cave,” Chesterton ponders the significance of Christmas. “It might be suggested …,” he writes, “that nothing had happened in that fold or crack in the great grey hills [outside the city of Bethlehem] except that the whole universe had been turned inside out.”

It was on that first Christmas, Chesterton reminds us, that the world was introduced to the revolutionary concept of “a deity born like an outcast or even an outlaw,” a God who not only humbled Himself to become human, but who also chose to consign Himself a place among “the poor and the outcast.”

According to Chesterton, it was also the first Christmas that established “an association … between two ideas that most of mankind must regard as remote from each other; the idea of a baby and the idea of unknown strength that sustains the stars.” The fact that the shivering, crying baby in the stable was also the immutable, omnipotent Creator of the universe is a mystery that still boggles the human mind.

Chesterton notes “that no other story, no pagan legend or philosophical anecdote or historical event, does in fact affect any of us with that peculiar and even poignant impression produced on us by the word Bethlehem.”

Some have claimed that Christianity is just one among many religions and have even suggested that its practices are derivative of earlier myths. But, Chesterton writes, “No other birth of a god or childhood of a sage seems to us to be Christmas or anything like Christmas. It is either too cold or too frivolous, or too formal and classical, or too simple and savage, or too occult and complicated.”

There is something special about Christmas -- something wonderful, beautiful and powerful – and it is something we should never forget.

The Southern Cross

This commentary first appeared in the December 2008 issue of The Southern Cross.

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