I had to run to the grocery store for some last minute items needed for Christmas dinner. On the way out, I was privy to overhear part of a conversation between two women in the entryway. The segment I heard started out agreeably enough, but soon went (in my opinion) askew.
"... and the true meaning of Christmas is not about how many presents you have underneath that tree," said one woman.
"Yep, that's right," agreed the other.
"I told him what it's really all about is that we're all together..." she continued as I left through the door, probably wincing visibly at this last part.
Now, of course, Christmas is not not about being all together: surely, the Church in Her Wisdom proclaims this day an Obligatory Holy Day, which carries - along with the requirement of assisting at Mass - the duty "to abstain from those works and aVairs which hinder the worship to be rendered to God, the joy proper to the Lord's day, or the suitable relaxation of mind and body" (CJC 1247; emphasis added). Enjoying family and fellowship are part and parcel of "the joy proper to the Lord's day" certainly and arguably have some connection as well to rendering due worship, considering that family life is a vocation and essential to offering acceptable praise to God is living well one's vocation.
But, what Christmas is all about? Not quite - that is, not all.
You hear this sort of thing a lot, sometimes in forms much less innocuous than the one expressed by the lady at the grocery store. This simplistic watering down of the meaning of Christmas is really at its best in my example, stemming from undoubtedly good intentions and some degree of mere ignorance; at its worst, it can be a very deliberate and seditious ploy typical of the dictatorship of relativism.
I offer this short note as a reminder for us Christians that we must witness to the true meaning of Christmas in all its vitality and power; we should take this opportunity to reflect upon the fullness and depth of that meaning so that we can manifest it forth in more compelling ways.
And what is that meaning? It is Christ Himself: there is no easy reduction or formulaic distillation of this meaning. The babe in the manger is God Himself: He is God the Son, co-eternal with the Father, sent in time as a Man to live as man - and, lest we forget, to die as man, in reparation for the sin of man and the sins of men - each and every sin from the creation of the world to the end of time. God the Son, truly born in time of a Woman - a woman perfected in grace, the new Eve, so that redemption may begin in the manner that sin began.
Christmas is the revelation of God among us (not the beginning of it, mind you - that was 9 months ago). The hope and joy that Christmas brings to us are bound up with the fact that this gift is not merely the gift of a birth, but the gift of a life - the singular life of God as a man, which becomes the gift to all men of participation, if they accept it, in the life of God.
There's no end to the meaningfulness of this moment in time and eternity, but something it means definitely for us is humility. God humbled Himself this day, born by lowliest birth. We must be humble in turn, recognizing this mystery and speaking about it always with wonder and awe, at the grocery store or any place. In sight of what He's given us, we owe Him that much at least.