What are the first two things you think of when someone says Christmas? Stop and think a moment.
What if you asked a young child? In particular, what if you asked your niece or the little boy who stands next to you in church? What would the child talk about? Santa and presents? Beautiful lights and the Christmas tree? The food and all the people filling the house with laughter and togetherness?
Or rather, what if you were driving home from church and you asked your wife what she thought about Christmas? What would her first words be? Her obligations? Getting everything ready for the big family get-together? The presents she hasn’t had time to buy? Or her relief that the decorations are finally finished and the baking is almost done?
And what is the father of the family doing? How is he preparing his children for the coming of Christmas? Is he encouraging them to behave, promising that, if they are good, Santa Claus will come and bring presents? Is he spending time with the children by sitting and telling stories about the reindeer and the little elves?
Is this the way it should be? Is this what the family should associate with Christmas?
Should the child be thinking of a made-up character, Santa Claus? Of red bows and evergreens and twinkling lights? Of the family coming together for a very special party where there are presents for everyone? Should this be the child’s first thought?
Or rather, should the child be thinking of the wonder that our God Who was and is before all ages became a little child?
And the mother, where should her energies be focused? What are her obligations? Should she be spending her time and energy preparing the house with decorations and food? Should the father be spending his time with his children telling stories that aren’t even true and reinforcing the myth of an imaginary character who brings good things into our life?
Or should the mother be making sure that the home of her children’s soul is ready for the entrance of our Lord and Savior. And should the father be reading the Nativity Gospels, reminding his children that only Christ is the Source and Giver of all good things.
Can we honestly say that we understand what Christmas is about?
Are we secure that our family first and foremost celebrates Christmas as the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? Is it only that other family that doesn’t know? Are we lying to ourselves? Is it only everyone else’s problem with a false, secular, Christmas? Are we honestly celebrating Christ’s birth, or are we celebrating the coming of goodies, parties and a big fat man in a red suit with a lot of stuff for us.
What will we find if we look at our own life and examine our own actions? What did we do with the forty days leading up to Christmas? Did we prepare during this Advent for the Nativity feast through fasting, prayer, and almsgiving?
Or were we too tired to think of anything to cook and picked up a pizza after shopping all day at the mall. Or was it that we baked the cookies at night when everyone was home so that they were tempted to taste just one and broke the fast? Or did we miss Vespers last Saturday because it took longer to put up the tree than we thought? Or was it that the Christmas special on the television was later than usual, so everyone went to bed without saying prayers? Or was it that the presents for all the nephews and nieces ended up costing more than we thought and we had nothing left for the Church and the poor? Did we use the lesser, the secondary preparations as an excuse not to prepare our soul?
What do we really believe when we have time to clean the house for our guests on Christmas but not to prepare for Holy Communion by saying the preparation service? What do we believe about Christmas, the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, when we choose to be with family at home rather than to be spiritually and PHYSICALLY present with Him, partaking of His most precious Body and Blood?
We are deluding ourselves if we think that we are celebrating the birth of our Lord and Savior and yet we have merely decorated the house, wrapped gifts, and prepared for the family gatherings. We have not spent Advent, the Nativity Fast, in preparation for Christ’s birth if we bought new outfits for Christmas Day but failed to go to confession. Did the same mother who took her daughter shopping for a Christmas dress bring her daughter to the church for confession? Which had priority? Was the soul overlooked and only the body remembered? As a mother, about which will Christ ask her?
As fathers, as heads of our households, did we make clear whether the outer or the inner life has priority for us? Did we request an elaborate feast, thereby preventing our wives from partaking of the holy services? Do we assist our wives to prepare both spiritually and physically for Holy Communion, ensuring they have both the time and the energy? Do we as fathers remember our obligation to pray for our families, our wives and our children? Do we ensure that our children know Who Christ is? Does the child, who can recite where Santa Claus lives and describe the gifts in the sleigh, know that Christ was born in Bethlehem and is both fully God and fully man? Does that same child know that it is our Lord and Savior Who gives us the priceless gift of Holy Communion and eternal life?
Christ welcomes us at the eleventh hour. Are our bodies adorned but our souls left unwashed? It is not too late. Let us now rejoice in the birth of our Lord and Savior. The celebration has just begun. The preceding forty days were merely the preparation. The feast begins now, on December 25. Let us rejoice because Christ is born! Let us glorify Him! Christ comes on earth, let us go to meet Him! Let us rejoice in celebrating the birth of God Who was before all ages and became a little Child for our sake.