What an unspeakably beautiful feast Christmas! Our Advent preparations are over, and whatever sacrifices were made in preparation for this grace-filled feast now seem as nothing and certainly well worth the effort! It seems a hallmark of God’s graces that while there is always a price to pay to obtain and hold on to them, this price – however costly – pales in comparison with the prize.
Christ in Christmas
What is Christmas without Christ? What is the difference between it truly being a Holy Day instead of just a holiday?
Certainly it is a beautiful cultural celebration – but isn’t that rather empty and unfulfilling? There are only so many Christmas cookies and candy that one can eat (even if Mom makes them) before being filled to bursting and not able to eat another bite. There are only so many presents that one can open or give before it becomes tiresome. Even the beautiful Christmas music that stirs up so much nostalgia and so many beautiful memories of Christmas’ past – this too grows old.
We are more than just flesh and blood. Our nature yearns for God and as St. Augustine says, “our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee”. Nothing in this world can satisfy us. God alone will fill the void in our hearts.
What an endless source of wonder and admiration and what deep lessons do we reap from Christmas as a holy day! The love of God for us is shown in such a wonderful way. God Himself comes to save us! The Word becomes flesh and dwells among us. We can meditate for ages and ages upon the goodness, humility, patience, and poverty of the Christ Child.
Unlike the pleasures of the body – these beautiful truths can fill the soul and still leave it yearning for more. “They that eat of me shall yet hunger: and they that drink of me shall yet thirst.” (Ecclesiasticus 24:29)
Even in the simplest church or chapel, Christmas midnight Mass is one of the most beautiful experiences all year. Whether the Mass is sung or whether it is a simple low Mass in the candlelight, there is a beauty and grace present that truly cannot be explained.
The Church cannot wait till the morning to celebrate this feast, so the first Mass of Christmas begins at midnight. And how fitting this is! Christ comes down on the altar and the great mystery of transubstantiation takes place, and just like at the Incarnation when Christ was conceived in Mary’s womb, God comes down to earth!
The birth of Jesus Christ and his appearance among men was so humble and lowly. Yet, even this is not humble enough for God made man! At Mass, Jesus comes again to earth – but not as a humble child – rather, in the form of bread and wine. At the Incarnation He took on a human nature. At Mass, he takes on the form of food. What a great mystery this is.
Bethlehem: “House of Bread”
The birth of Christ contains a beautiful prefigurement of the Holy Eucharist. In the Old Testament, God fed the Israelites in the desert with the manna, the miraculous bread that came down from heaven each day. In the Gospel of St. John, we read how Christ pointed to this when He first spoke of the Holy Eucharist. But in the Nativity of Christ, from the very beginning of Christ’s life on earth, we see a very clear sign of this future promise.
Bethlehem literally means, “house of bread”. And in this “House of Bread”, Christ was born and laid in a manger, that is, a feeding trough for animals. What an incredible sign He gives to us! It is as if Christ could not wait to let us know that not only would He become man to redeem us, but He would remain with us “all days, even to the consummation of the world.”
Truly the Holy Eucharist is a divine mystery. Could anyone but God have come up with such a thing? What man could invent such a thing and seriously expect others to believe it?
The Meaning of Christmas
Words and their meanings are important. “Behold a Virgin shall conceive and bear a son and his name shall be called Emmanuel” (Isaiah 7:14) Emmanuel means “God with us”.
Emmanuel was born in Bethlehem, the House of Bread, to show that He would not only become man to redeem us, but that He would be with us always under the appearance of Bread to be our spiritual food to be our strength and comfort.
This mystery of the Eucharist is so closely bound with the feast of the Nativity of Christ, that our English name Christmas is taken from the words “Christ’s Mass”.
How great is the goodness and love of God that He would thus humble Himself for us, His sinful creatures! Let us truly take this to heart and from the example of the Christ Child, learn the great value of humility and sacrifice.
If we often think and meditate on these great truths of our Faith, then the lessons will bear fruit in our lives.
“Dearly beloved, the grace of God our Savior hath appeared to all men, instructing us that denying ungodliness and worldly desires, we should live soberly and justly and godly in this world; looking for the blessed hope and coming of the glory of the great God an dour Savior Jesus Christ: who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and might cleanse to himself an acceptable people, pursuing good works. These things speak and exhort, in Jesus Christ our Lord.”
– The Epistle for Christmas Midnight Mass, taken from the Epistle of St. Paul to Titus, Chapter II