I never gave much thought to the fact that Christmas falls towards the end of the year (apart from the necessity of its sentimental image "White Christmas" to take place in winter). This year, though, being a year of many firsts, I thought it wonderful and timely for Christmas to be near, or at, the climax of our thanksgiving season for all the blessings we have received in the past year.
Amidst the din that I heard about banishing religion from public space, was the propriety(!) of saying "Merry Christmas" in a multi-religious society. Obviously, if secularists (yes, the secularists, not other "co-religionists"!) feel threatened by Christmas celebration, there must be important reasons for Christians to celebrate it and to fight for the right to celebrate it (other than that it's "that time of the year", as some songs suggest). Looking back to this blog's archive during the last three Decembers, I found no post that reflected the significance of Christmas in my life... This year, I spent the whole of Advent and Christmas (and soon, New Year) away from home. Yes, I do miss the festivities that being at home entails; but most importantly I think it has been a blessing for me as there are less distractions when a reflection is in order.
What is the impact of Christmas, to us? Yesterday's Feast of the Holy Innocents reminded me that even at the beginning of His time on earth, Jesus' birth had brought so much changes. Thousands (possibly) of infants in Bethlehem were massacred: they bore witnesses to the birth of the Holy One. Christ came into our world without waiting for any invitation; these children, despite their tender age, shed their lives for Christ. In the words of St Quodvultdeus,
To what merits of their own do the children owe this kind of victory? They cannot speak, yet they bear witness to Christ. They cannot use their limbs to engage in battle, yet already they bear off the palm of victory.
For me, the impact of Christmas did not demand such great sacrifice as these children's; it was that of contemplating the Eternal entering time. "The Word was made flesh, and dwelt amongst us." This was for me a statement of depth and mystery: why? What for? A story I heard from a priest went like this:
"A man sitting in a house in a middle of a snowstorm saw that there were birds hitting the glass of his windows, attracted blindly by the light of his fireplace. Moved by compassion, he went out to light and open the door to his barn to give them shelter. But the birds, being stupid birds, did not follow him to the barn. Frustrated, he started flapping his arms to imitate them and signal them to follow him. The birds however, still did not follow him. And then he thought, if only I could be a bird for once, they would surely follow me to safety..."
And that is what God has done when the Word Incarnate dwelt amongst us! At this awesome wonder, words fail me.
Everything, everything that had come my way this year, the "chance" encounters, the friends and not-yet-friends, the opportunities to grow and to be humble, the inspirations and affections, the aridity and the consolations, the darkness He allowed and the lights He had bestowed, were all gifts.
Just last night, I was reading from the book of Tobit. In there, some of the protagonists, Tobit and Sara, launched into a praise before asking God to end their lives! In each turn of event, all of them: Tobit, Sara, Tobias, Raguel, and the archangel Raphael, launched into beautiful prayers of thanksgiving and praise. Reading these praises in my own languange (the only bible I have with the book of Tobit being in Bahasa Indonesia) made them especially heartfelt.
O Emmanuel, He is always with us, rejoice and give thanks!