Catholics across the world usually begin the preparation of Christmas with the celebration of the Holy Mass of the first Sunday of advent according to the Catholic traditional Liturgical Calendar.
By all implications, parents in particular will soon be confronted with the challenges of buying new dresses for their children and attending to other family needs at the said period.
But is this why we celebrate Christmas? Or is this what Christmas means? Before we attempt these questions, it is important to first and foremost understand the origin of Christmas.
Origin of Christmas
The word for “Christmas” is derived from the late Old English CristesMaesse, which means “the Mass of Christ”. It was first found in 1038. Today, the same word is referred to “Christmas”, Kerstmis in Dutch, Dies Natalis in Latin, Weihnachtsfest, in German, Noël in French, and Il natale in Italian.
What is Christmas?
More than 2,000 years ago, Jesus was born to fulfill a mission: to save us from sin and death by his death and resurrection as he clearly states in John’s Gospel: (Jn 3:17).
Christmas, is a time we not only preoccupy ourselves with selling and buying or with the demands of families but it is a time when we remember the birth of Jesus and reflect on God’s amazing generosity that is graciously lavished upon humanity.
It’s a time of great joyful celebration and love among Christians, families, friends and well-wishers.
We must however note that as there is no historical record and a well-founded tradition which gives the date of the birth of Christ, the date of December 25 was established about the year 320, and the Popes seem to have chosen the twenty-fifth day of December principally to divert the attention of the people from the celebration of a pagan feast of the Mithras cult which was called the “Birthday of the Unconquered Sun” (Natalis Solis Invicti).
This does not in any manner indicate that Christmas is merely a “christianized” pagan feast, for Christians of that time realized with St. John Chrysostom: “The pagans call December 25 the Birthday of the Unconquered.
Who is indeed so unconquered as Our Lord? . . . or, if they say that it is the birthday of the Sun, He is the Sun of Justice.” Hence, the choice of December 25 as Christmas day.
Why do we celebrate Christmas?
Christmas commemorates that God entered this world in human form (cf., Ph 2:6-11). It is the celebration of the Birth of the Savior. God has taken on human flesh. Nothing like that had ever taken place previously.
God was very active in the creation of the world and in forming man and woman; further, in the making of a covenant with Israel, God promised to be with and to save them. Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise. He is God’s Word who saves all humanity from the tragic consequences of sin.
In one sense, purifying our minds and lives of thoughts, words, attitudes and actions that contrast with Christ’s coming can and should be taken to mean ridding ourselves of all sin and the distractions (either personal or family distractions) that could be a barrier for us not to reflect on the mystery of Christ incarnation (God made man).
Mary: Our role model at Christmas
Amidst therefore our preparations for the great feast, we must remember that it was the Virgin Mary who first embraced preparing for Christmas, when the “angel’s message” came from God that she would bear a child .
“Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word” (Lk 1:38). Just as Mary, we must also face the ups and downs of the Christmas in humility and trust in God. We must trust God that He will take control of what is beyond our control in this holy season.
This is why the angel announced to the shepherds, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people…” (Lk 2:10). This Good News was first spread by Mary herself when she visited her cousin Elizabeth whose son (John) leaped for joy upon hearing Mary’s greetings – the Mother of God (Lk 1:44).
In like manner, we are expected to share the great joy of the Christmas with others. This is not limited to only our friends but to all humanity – the belief and unbelief, the prisoners, the orphanage homes, the sick, the abandoned etc. Interestingly, at the beginning of every year, our country is always dedicated to the care of our Blessed Virgin Mother as the Mother of Nigeria.
This noble action of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria is highly commendable bearing in mind that in 431 at the Council of Ephesus (the Third Ecumenical Council of the Church) Mary was declared the Mother of God or Theotokos (literally means “God-bearer).
This declaration of the Council Fathers points out vividly the unique role of Mary in God’s divine plan of redemption of mankind as emphasized by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council when they teach that; “The Virgin Mary, who at the message of the angel received the Word of God in her heart and in her body and gave Life to the world, is acknowledged and honored as being truly the Mother of God and Mother of the Redeemer.
“We believe that the Most Holy Mother of God, the new Eve, the Mother of the Church, carries on in heaven her maternal role with regard to the members of Christ, cooperating in the birth and development of divine life in the souls of the redeemed (CG 15, cf., John Paull II’s Redemptoris Mater 47).
In conclusion, as the joy of Christmas snowballs to the celebration of the New Year, we must brace up ourselves in humility and trust in God as Mary did, and hope for a better new year of 2021 by constantly asking Mary (the Patroness of Nigeria) for her divine intercession as by her maternal charity she cares for us all who are the brethren of her Son who still journey on this earth surrounded by dangers and cultism (cf., LG 62).
To climax the announcement of the Good News to all humanity a whole army of angels appeared and sang, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests” (Lk 2:13).
At Christmas, we must therefore allow the angelic song to awaken in us a deep longing to experience the closeness of God; a desire to live in a peaceful world; a hope to end violence and suffering (corona virus and huger), and a wish to eliminate grudges and hatred in our relationships with our families, coworkers, and communities so that the New Year will be a better one for us all.
As believers, we must make the ardent effort to unwrap the Savior, Jesus Christ to the world of the unbelief and hate with courage and enthusiasm. Let the words of the angel to the shepherds “Do not be afraid” constantly reecho in us that by the presence of the Infant Jesus in our world “all weapons of destruction and violence will be beaten into ploughshares of peace” (cf., Is 2:4).
May you all unwrap the true meaning of Christmas who is Jesus Christ, the Savior and Lord, and through the intercession of mother Mary, may God make possible the realization of your aspirations and dreams in this New Year.