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What is the meaning of Christmas?

The first Christmas wasn’t the end, but the beginning, inasmuch as it remains for us to complete the work of redemption in ourselves.

"Nativity" (1414) by Lorenzo Monaco [WikiArt.org]

What is the meaning of Christmas? That question may not be quite as simple as it sounds.

For many people, Christmas means big, jovial meals with family and friends, singing seasonal hymns in church, exchanging gifts. And for some generous souls, it also means serving meals to the poor or visiting lonely people in hospitals or nursing homes.

Those are all good answers, I think—all those things really are a welcome part of Christmas. But for a deeper take on the matter, let’s turn to two towering religious thinkers and masters of rhetoric, St. Augustine and St. John Henry Newman.

For both of them, the coming of Jesus is directly linked to the doctrine of original sin—that “terrible aboriginal calamity,” Newman calls it, which brought about humanity’s state of alienation from God and continues to serve as breeding ground of personal sins. The Incarnation, which we celebrate at Christmas, is God’s chosen means of undoing this terrible damage through the redemptive, grace-giving life of Jesus Christ.

Against this background, Augustine in his Christmas homilies enjoys marshaling paradoxes to illustrate “the humility of God.” He therefore speaks of the newborn Savior as, “unspeakably wise, wisely speechless as an infant; filling the world, lying in a manger; so great in the form of God, so small in the form of a servant, in such a way that neither the greatness was diminished by the smallness, nor the smallness overwhelmed by the greatness.”

And to what end? Here is Augustine’s answer: “Unless he had a human birth, we would never attain to the divine rebirth; he was born that we might be reborn….His mother bore him in her womb; let us bear him in our hearts. The virgin was big with the incarnation of Christ; let our bosoms grow big with the faith of Christ. She gave birth to the Savior; let us give birth to praise. We mustn’t be barren; our souls must be fruitful with God.”

Writing fourteen centuries later, John Henry Newman offers much the same account of Christmas in his own inimitable fashion. After the fall, he points out, the Second Person of the Trinity “might have remained in the glory which he had with the Father before the world was. But that unsearchable Love, which showed itself in our original creation, rested not content with a frustrated work, but brought him down again from His Father’s bosom to do his will and repair the evil which sin had caused.”

The first Christmas wasn’t the end, though, but the beginning, inasmuch as it remains for us to complete the work of redemption in ourselves. Here’s Newman again: “The first grace is faith, the last is love; first comes zeal, afterwards comes loving-kindness; first comes humiliation, then comes peace; first comes diligence, then comes resignation. May we learn to mature all graces in us—fearing and trembling, watching and repenting because Christ is coming; joyful, thankful and careless of the future because he is come.”

So Christmas most certainly does mean big, happy family dinners, familiar carols and hymns, and gift-giving, along with acts of kindness performed for the needy and the sad. Pile on the Christmas trees, the holiday wreaths, the familiar music, and enjoy every blessed bit of it. But in the midst of it all, let’s keep the eyes of our hearts fixed on that tiny figure in the manger. In the end, nothing we do would count for very much if he hadn’t come to celebrate that first Christmas with us.


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About Russell Shaw 267 Articles
Russell Shaw was secretary for public affairs of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops/United States Catholic Conference from 1969 to 1987. He is the author of 20 books, including Nothing to Hide, American Church: The Remarkable Rise, Meteoric Fall, and Uncertain Future of Catholicism in America, Eight Popes and the Crisis of Modernity, and, most recently, The Life of Jesus Christ (Our Sunday Visitor, 2021).

3 Comments

  1. Let’s keep the eyes of our hearts fixed on that tiny figure in the manger…sadly many put Him away with all the decorations when Christmas is over. Praying that the staff and all Catholics write and focus on the one true Mediator, Savior and Lord..Jesus Christ!!

  2. Old Testament does not divide Jesus’ Coming into His First and Second Coming, but only ‘The Day of the Lord’. Jesus was on earth from the Immaculate Conception, to His Birth on Christmas, to His death and Resurrection, and till His Ascension. After His Ascension, Jesus lives on, on earth, through His Catholic Church, which He conceived on earth upon His First Coming.

    The Revelation 12 Blessed Mother is pregnant and about to give Birth to the Revelation 21 ‘New Jerusalem’, which will be Jesus’, Kingdom Come Catholic Church, on free-willed earth, under Messianic Reign. Before Christ’s, Kingdom Come Catholic Church, can be born on earth, it has to develop in the womb of the Blessed Mother’s guidance on earth. The Blessed Mother delivers both Jesus and Jesus’ Revelation 12 Kingdom Come Catholic Church into Messianic Reign. Jesus’ Conception and Christmas Birth on earth is not complete until the Second Coming of Jesus, where He returns to marry His, now developed Catholic Church Bride, and together, Groom and Bride, will complete ‘The Day of the Lord’ Prophetic Promises from God the Father.

    As God’s Presence was in the Jewish stone temple from the Exodus till the fall of Israel in 587 B.C.; Jesus will again now place God’s Presence into the Body of His Catholic Church on earth. Jesus is Getting Married to His Church, the Catholic Church. Jesus’ returning the Presence of God to earth, is Jesus returning to reside, not in a stone temple, but in the Body of His Catholic Church on earth.

    In St. Faustina’s ‘Divine Mercy in My Soul’, Jesus personifies St. Faustina as His whole Church. In other words, when Jesus is talking to St. Faustina, He is really talking to His whole Catholic Church on earth. Jesus making St. Faustina a ‘Living Host’, is Jesus making the Body of His Catholic Church, a ‘Living Host’ on earth.

    Divine Mercy in My Soul, 923
    And in the most hidden depths of your soul, a perfect holocaust will be carried out, not just for a while, but know, My daughter, that this offering will last until your death. But there is time, so that I the Lord will fulfill all your wishes. I delight in you as in a living host; let nothing terrify you; I am with you.

    Divine Mercy in My Soul, 955
    Today I heard these words in my soul: Host pleasing to My Father, know, My daughter, that the entire Holy Trinity finds Its special delight in you, because you live exclusively by the will of God. No sacrifice can compare with this.

    Revelation 21:9 The New Jerusalem.
    “Come, I will show you the woman who is the bride of the Lamb.” He carried me away in spirit to the top of a very high mountain and showed me the holy city of Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God…
    …I saw no temple in the city, The Lord God the Almighty, is its temple he and the Lamb. The city had no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God gave it light, and its lamp was the Lamb. The nations shall walk by its light; to it the kings of the earth shall bring their treasures.

    Isaiah 62:1
    For Zion’s sake I will not be silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet, Until her vindication shines forth like the dawn and her victory like a burning torch. Nations shall behold your vindication, and all kings your glory; You shall be called by a new name pronounced by the mouth of the LORD. You shall be a glorious crown in the hand of the LORD, a royal diadem held by your God. No more shall men call you ‘Forsaken,’ or your land ‘Desolate,’ But you shall be called ‘My Delight,’ and your land ‘Espoused.’ For the LORD delights in you, and makes your land his spouse. As a young man marries a virgin, your Builder shall marry you; And as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride so shall your God rejoice in you.

    Revelation 21:1 The New Heaven and the New Earth.
    Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them [as their God]. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, [for] the old order has passed away.”

    Revelation 19:6
    The Lord has established his reign, (our) God, the almighty. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory. For the wedding day of the Lamb has come, his bride has made herself ready. She was allowed to wear a bright, clean linen garment.

    Psalms 45:14
    All glorious is the king’s daughter as she enters, her raiment threaded with gold; In embroidered apparel she is led to the king. The maids of her train are presented to the king. They are led in with glad and joyous acclaim; they enter the palace of the king.

    Psalms 48:2
    Great is the LORD and highly praised in the city of our God: The holy mountain, fairest of heights, the joy of all the earth, Mount Zion, the heights of Zaphon, the city of the great king.

    Jesus is Getting Married
    http://www.apocalypseangel.com/married.html

  3. The peace and joy of Christmas. Blessings to one and all. With special thanks to CWR in their ministry to proclaim truth and help us to grow in the knowledge of Jesus Christ. A challenging task for commentators and readers both.
    May the Lord give us insight and wisdom.

    One Solitary Life

    He was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant. He grew up in another village, where he worked in a carpenter shop until he was 30. Then, for three years, he was an itinerant preacher.

    He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family or owned a home. He didn’t go to college. He never lived in a big city. He never traveled 200 miles from the place where he was born. He did none of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but himself.

    He was only 33 when the tide of public opinion turned against him. His friends ran away. One of them denied him. He was turned over to his enemies and went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. While he was dying, his executioners gambled for his garments, the only property he had on earth. When he was dead, he was laid in a borrowed grave, through the pity of a friend.

    Twenty centuries have come and gone, and today he is the central figure of the human race. I am well within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned–put together–have not affected the life of man on this earth as much as that one, solitary life.*

    *Attributed to James Allen Francis.

2 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. What is the meaning of Christmas? | Passionists Missionaries Kenya, Vice Province of St. Charles Lwanga, Fathers & Brothers
  2. What is the meaning of Christmas? | Franciscan Sisters of St Joseph (FSJ) , Asumbi Sisters Kenya

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