Christmas celebrates the reality that God himself came into the world as a man—fully divine and fully human, to die for us.
Christmas celebrates that God, the Creator of everything that is, became a baby, born into poverty, so that we could be set free from sin, be unconquered by death, and spend eternity in paradise, with God.
Christmas makes claims which defy our understanding, and exceed our comprehension. Christmas makes claims which, because they are true, should change everything about the way we live.
But in the celebration of Christmas—in giving gifts, and gathering with families, and singing familiar carols, in feasting and making merry —we can sometimes lose sight of just how radical Christmas really is. Even when we celebrate it well, we can lose sight of what it means for our lives.
To see Christmas for all that it is—for what it really means —and to live according to its claims and demands, requires that, even in these final days, we prepare ourselves well.
This Christmas, Pope Francis has given the Church three suggestions for preparing well, to appreciate and live the meaning of Christmas. Last Sunday, the pope said that “joy, prayer and gratitude are three attitudes that prepare us to live Christmas in an authentic way.”
Gratitude, the pope said, is critical for the lives of Christians. Gratitude comes from taking stock of our lives, and realizing that “every good and perfect gift” is from the Lord. Gratitude comes from acknowledgement that our lives are filled with good things, and these things come from God. Gratitude begets gratitude: the more we give thanks to God, the more we see that everything we have is his gift, and that everything else pales when compared to the gift of his son, Jesus Christ.
Disciples of Jesus, Pope Francis said, should be “living in an endless state of thanksgiving.”
Prayer deepens the unity with the Lord, which begins in gratitude. St. Paul tells us to pray ceaselessly. This is a call to pray when we are struggling, and to pray when we are rejoicing. To pray when we are busy, and when we are not. To take time to invite the Lord into our lives, no matter the circumstances. And, most especially, to pray in silence—especially in the presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, in the presence of “love made visible.” To prepare well for the celebration of Christmas, we need to make time for prayer.
Joy is the fruit of prayer and gratitude. Joy is the fruit of becoming the Lord’s disciple. “The joy of the Christian comes from faith and from the encounter with Jesus Christ, the reason for our happiness,” Pope Francis said. “The more we are rooted in Christ, the more we find inner serenity, even in the midst of everyday contradictions.”
Joy is living in the truth that God is love.
In the final days before Christmas, may we be grateful, may we prayerful, and may we experience the joy of the Lord. And in gratitude, prayer, and joyfulness; may Christmas transform our hearts and our lives, so that we might follow the Lord, who came into the world to give us eternal life.