I WISH YOU A MARY CHRISTMAS
by REVEREND GEORGE L. KANE
Perhaps you think I’ve made a mistake in spelling. Or you may decide I’m indulging in a play on words. But there is no mistake in spelling, and my play on words is based solely on a desire to play down the kind of Christmas frequently associated with the word merry and to play up the kind of Christmas inevitably associated with the name Mary. In other words, I wish you the kind of Christmas Mary, the mother of Christ, would wish you.
But first let me assure you that it is normal to be merry at Christmas, for Christmas is the happiest of all birthdays. It commemorates not only the birth of Christ, the beginning of His life on earth, but also the rebirth of every man in Christ.
Angels celebrated the occasion with celestial music which was for man the opening movement of a symphony of divine love, marking God’s fulfillment of His promise to send man a Savior. Little wonder, then, that the whole season surrounding Christmas has become synonymous with jubilation.
But too often the merriment in evidence at Christmas is far from being an excess of joy or an overflow of happiness. For the ruthless exploitation and the over-commercialism of Love’s anniversary have dulled the edge of the season’s happiness for millions of people.
True Christmas joy can be born only of hope, but the anxieties, the tensions, and the stresses involved in today’s preparations for the Feast more often resemble a flight from hope, a journey into frustration.
The tragedy of all this becomes evident when we consider that the soul of Christmas joy is the thrilling fact recorded in Sacred Scripture, “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you, who is Christ the Lord.” These are the divinely-inspired words which at Christmas quicken in the human heart an ecstasy unknown at any other time.
ANXIETIES AND TENSIONS
But when he is the victim of a hundred pressures, it is hard for modern man to be ecstatic. With his peace of mind assailed on every side, he finds it difficult to recall that true peace of soul, the promised peace of Christmas, can be possessed only by one who stands before God with a conscience free from serious sin.
Modern advertising has brain-washed him into forgetting that true joy does not result from the selection of an ideal gift for everyone on his shopping list; rather is it a quality of a heart in love with God. Yes, in our day the stresses and strains of the festive season have affected almost everyone to a greater or less degree.
They have even penetrated the family circle. And though Christmas is and always was the feast of home and family, and men go to great lengths to keep it so, the frenzy of the season makes the modern family despair of recapturing a measure of the rapture experienced by the Holy Family in Bethlehem. And their efforts to have a Merry Christmas are largely to blame.
One phase of this trend is seen in the over-emphasis on Christmas shopping. As December 25 approaches, greater and greater crowds throng the stores, struggling and shoving, examining goods, making purchases.
Harried clerks rush about waiting on customers, displaying and demonstrating merchandise, wrapping and tying packages, trying to maintain their composure against losing odds.
No doubt many people will be made merry by the gifts they receive. But what a travesty of Christmas if any gift is given from an empty heart. On the first Christmas God gave His only-begotten Son because “He so loved the world,” but this Christmas Helen will give Sally a gift because she hopes for one in return, and Jim will yield to social pressure and exchange gifts with a fellow-worker he hardly knows.
One man became so weary of the frustration of giving a shirt and getting a shirt, of giving cigars and getting cigars, that one Christmas he sent cards to his friends saying that he planned to give to charity in their name the amount he formerly spent on gifts for them. His friends liked the idea. They liked it so much, in fact, that they adopted it themselves. From that man’s gesture almost $1,500 is now given each Christmas to orphans, the sick, the hungry, and the needy.
Though this man was comfortable in his own home, he did not let his curtains drawn against the cold deaden the cry of suffering from the outside world. While enjoying the warmth of his fire on winter nights, he did not forget that many people were denied that comfort.
He had so hated the commercialism of the Christmas season, the terrific pressures and the insane methods of making it merry that he had grown to dislike the Feast itself. But when he stopped to think about it, he readily realized that what he really hated was the way it was celebrated by so many people.
They were, in fact, being manipulated like puppets on the strings of big business, social custom and human respect. This man cut the strings and set out to observe a Mary Christmas.
A MERRY CHRISTMAS?
But even when we have said all this, we have not said the worst about the modern concept of a Merry Christmas. In many so-called sophisticated circles there is the inevitable “office party” at which business executives and their staff celebrate the Feast. No reasonable person is opposed to parties, and employees especially appreciate an annual display of warmth and friendliness from their employers.
Didn’t the Infant Savior come to earth to save all men, and didn’t He welcome to Bethlehem both Kings and Shepherds? Nothing could be more fitting, therefore, than for the kings of modern business and the shepherds from their offices to come together and celebrate His birthday. But the ordinary Christmas office party is hardly reminiscent of Bethlehem, and the type of pagan entertainment provided at some such parties may do honor to Bacchus and Venus, but it is an insult to Christ, a blasphemy and a sacrilege.
Those who thus dishonor the sacred Christmas season have lost all concept of the meaning of the divine love that wrought Bethlehem’s miracle; indeed, for them celebrating Christmas is a mockery of that love.
Even apart from the wrong kind of office party, an increasing number of people associate a Merry Christmas with the exhilaration and intoxication that the excessive use of liquor produces. The only Christmas spirit they know is in bottles, and throughout the Holy Season they are likely to be to a greater or less extent under its influence.
On the first Christmas God came among men to elevate them to a share in His own divine life; and now on its anniversary many of them degrade themselves lower than the brutes. When a father or mother, a son or daughter spends Christmas in a drunken stupor and disrupts the peace and harmony of the home, the happiest day of the year is made one of the saddest for the other members of the family. Such arrogant selfishness and supreme self-indulgence defile and desecrate Christ’s birthday. A Merry Christmas? For whom?
THE BIRTHDAY WITH A DIFFERENCE
But we need not describe further the world’s distorted notion of a Merry Christmas. Rather, do I want to describe God’s notion of a Mary Christmas.
Let us not forget that Christmas is the anniversary of the day on which God came into the world as man, the day on which time and eternity met and heaven and earth joined hands.
Christmas is the birthday with a difference. When we celebrate a friend’s birthday, we rejoice with him because he has lived another year, because he has attained the age of forty-six or fifty-eight. We seldom think of the day on which he was born forty-six or fifty-eight years ago. We do not think of him as he was then, as a new-born babe. We think of him as he is here and now, as a man of forty-six or fifty-eight.
In this respect Christmas is very different, even unique. Christmas is the birthday of Christ, the anniversary of the day on which the Savior of the world was born. And now, almost 2,000 years after His birth, Christmas evokes an image not of a Young Man in the thirties who died on a cross, but of a newborn Infant lying in a manger.
It is thus that He is pictured in Christmas art and represented in Christmas song and story. In other words, in celebrating Christmas, we are concerned not with the anniversary of the day of Christ’s birth, but with the very day itself.
God’s love was so beautifully expressed by coming to earth as the Babe of Bethlehem that we want to retain that expression; at least we want to recapture it once each year.
And there is another point of difference between our observance of a friend’s birthday and our celebration of Christ’s. A person can have a birthday only because someone gave him birth, and nothing should be more natural at a birthday party than that reference be made to the mother of the guest of honor, the one who made it possible for him to have a birthday. But such reference is seldom made.
That is where Christmas differs again from other birthdays. An infant is normally associated with his mother, and we cannot separate the Infant Savior from Mary. In our representations of the Christmas story in art and in our retelling of it in words Mary is always present; she either holds the Infant Savior in her arms or kneels beside His manger-crib. The world would not have it otherwise.
The most beautiful and most perfect Christmas anyone ever celebrated was a Mary Christmas, the first Christmas in which Mary played so prominent a role, the first Christmas when Mary herself celebrated the day of days.
For a Mary Christmas is the kind of Christmas God Himself arranged, and He then inspired the Evangelists to tell the world about it in simple but sublime language.
I hope that during this Christmas season you will take down your family Bible and read the second chapter of St. Luke and the first two chapters of St. Matthew. You will notice that in both accounts of Christ’s infancy Mary is prominently mentioned. In other words, God’s own first Christmas on earth was a Mary Christmas.
GOD MADE THE CHOICE
There is another point that we are inclined to overlook. God was the only son in the history of the human race who had the privilege and the opportunity of choosing His own mother, and Mary was the object of His divine choice. That privilege was the prerogative of the Creator alone.
God’s plan for the redemption of the human race, a plan made from all eternity, involved His own coming into the world as man, and He needed a human mother to give Him birth. He would choose her, fashion and form her according to His own specifications, and then ask her to accept the sublime dignity.
As any of us would do, God gave her a soul that was spotless, a heart completely in tune with His, a will in perfect conformity to His own. In fact, He made her the embodiment of beauty, grace, understanding, perfection. God’s choice was made in eternity, and in the fullness of time it was announced to the one who had been chosen.
It is now almost 2,000 years since, in preparation for the first Mary Christmas, God sent His great Archangel Gabriel speeding to earth with His greeting and His message to Mary of Nazareth. “Hail, full of grace,” the Angel spoke in God’s words. “The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women.”
When Mary had somewhat recovered from her initial fear and astonishment, a brief dialogue followed in which Gabriel outlined the divine plan. The Messiah was to be the Son of God, and Mary had been chosen to be His mother. She would conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit and, though becoming a mother, she would remain a virgin.
Seeing the only obstacle removed and recognizing the Angel’s message as the manifest will of God, Mary humbly consented, “Behold the hand-maid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word.” The Incarnation took place, and the Son of God and His mother waited in anticipation of the first Mary Christmas.
Nine months later Mary gave birth to her Divine Son in the little town of Bethlehem. Though the world was unconcerned and indifferent to His coming, God sent a celestial choir to the nearby hillside to chant the most beautiful and melodious of all Christmas carols, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of good will.”
A few Shepherds invited by the Angel and a few Wise Men directed by the star hastened to Bethlehem to greet and worship the Savior of the world. Certainly the Infant appreciated the sentiments of both Shepherds and Wise Men, but above all He delighted in the love of His own mother.
In heaven He had had the adoration of legions of angels, but now on earth He experienced a mother’s love for the first time. And no one loved this Child as His mother did. No one understood Him so completely.
Every other mother who caresses the young life that has been born to her looks up to heaven to thank God for His gift, but Mary looked down for she had heaven nestling in her arms—her Son and her God.
WHAT A MARY CHRISTMAS MEANS
St. Luke implies that on the night of Christ’s birth the Shepherds related the events to everyone they met. “All who heard marveled at the things told them by the shepherds.”
In contrast, the same sacred writer records that “Mary kept in mind all these things, pondering them in her heart.”
We will have a Mary Christmas if, like Mary, we ponder the meaning and the mystery of God made man. Such thoughts will stir in our hearts a greater response to God’s love. And we will more fully realize that it was the greatest possible gift that God gave us on the first Christmas. We will learn that the song of the angels was no mere cradle song, but a call to action to all men of good will.
For we will naturally express our love in action, in service of God and of our fellowmen. We will have a Mary Christmas if we radiate the warmth of charity. Christmas gift-giving is traditional, of course, for it dates back to the first Christmas when God the Father gave His Son to the world and the Magi gave their treasures to the newborn King.
But we too often give gifts to those who have everything, not often enough to those who have nothing.
I was delighted with the reply of a five-year-old son of fairly well-to-do parents when asked what he wanted for Christmas, “Don’t give me nothing. I got too much already.”
Most of us will visit our friends and make them welcome in our homes, but in memory of the helplessness of the Infant Savior we must include in our visits those who are helpless—the shut-ins, the sick and the aged.
It is frequently said by adults that Christmas is only for children. I repeat that sentiment here, and when I wish you a Mary Christmas I wish you the love and joy with which the season fills the hearts of children.
For we are all God’s children, and at Christmas in a special way we are all Mary’s children. You see, Mary, being the mother of Christ, is also the mother of Christmas.
Join me as I read to you the beautiful meditations of the Christmas Child written by Father Daniel Lord in the 1950’s…
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In With God in Russia, Ciszek reflects on his daily life as a prisoner, the labor he endured while working in the mines and on construction gangs, his unwavering faith in God, and his firm devotion to his vows and vocation. Enduring brutal conditions, Ciszek risked his life to offer spiritual guidance to fellow prisoners who could easily have exposed him for their own gains. He chronicles these experiences with grace, humility, and candor, from his secret work leading mass and hearing confessions within the prison grounds, to his participation in a major gulag uprising, to his own “resurrection”—his eventual release in a prisoner exchange in October 1963 which astonished all who had feared he was dead.
Powerful and inspirational, With God in Russia captures the heroic patience, endurance, and religious conviction of a man whose life embodied the Christian ideals that sustained him…..
Captured by a Russian army during World War II and convicted of being a “Vatican spy,” Jesuit Father Walter J. Ciszek spent 23 agonizing years in Soviet prisons and the labor camps of Siberia. Only through an utter reliance on God’s will did he manage to endure the extreme hardship. He tells of the courage he found in prayer–a courage that eased the loneliness, the pain, the frustration, the anguish, the fears, the despair. For, as Ciszek relates, the solace of spiritual contemplation gave him an inner serenity upon which he was able to draw amidst the “arrogance of evil” that surrounded him. Ciszek learns to accept the inhuman work in the infamous Siberian salt mines as a labor pleasing to God. And through that experience, he was able to turn the adverse forces of circumstance into a source of positive value and a means of drawing closer to the compassionate and never-forsaking Divine Spirit.
He Leadeth Me is a book to inspire all Christians to greater faith and trust in God–even in their darkest hour. As the author asks, “What can ultimately trouble the soul that accepts every moment of every day as a gift from the hands of God and strives always to do his will?”
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