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Christmas 2016

Nativity of the Lord
St. Joseph Basilica
December 24, 2016

A couple of weeks ago I was watching the evening news. As is common this time of year, one of the features focused upon Christmas shopping. The story was all about some “must-have” toy that people were going crazy trying to find - running from store to store, exhausting every website, writing to friends far away to see if they could lay hold of it for them. I forget what the toy was exactly - something that hatches, I think -  but whatever it was, the desire for it was so strong that it was fuelling a frantic search.

Now, it seems to me that this happens every year. There always seems to be a “must have” thing. It could be a toy, or it might be clothing or electronics. The desire for the “must have” can inhabit child and adult alike. When I watch this I often wonder: does the gift match the desire? This thing for which there is intense longing, does it really satisfy? We know from experience that the answer is no. The toy that is supposed to be the best ever will soon collect dust on a shelf and give way to the next great thing, fashions will change, and gadgets grow obsolete.

Christmas invites us to take a close look at this. What is this desire that impels our searching? What is the gift that will so fully satisfy that I need search no longer?

The Christian message is very clear. The desire that exists within every human heart is a longing for God. God has made us for Himself, that is to say, to live in a relationship of love and trust with Him, not only in this life but also forever. It’s very important we understand this. If we do not name our desire properly, we will be in endless search mode, because the things on offer from this world can never hope to fill a longing that only God can satisfy.

This brings us to the joy of Christmas. What the Church announces at Christmas is that there is, indeed, a “must have” gift, “must have” because it is the only one that can fully satisfy our longing. What is more, we do not have to go off in a frantic search to find it. Rather, the gift comes searching for us. That gift, of course, is the child born of Mary in Bethlehem, Jesus our Lord.

When we allow Jesus to find us, the restlessness, the frustration, the emptiness, the searching all come to an end. This is because Jesus is God, who through Mary has assumed human nature. When we welcome Jesus, we welcome God, and thus our deepest desire finds its complete satisfaction.

Now when we are caught up in Christmas shopping, what happens when we have acquired everything that we think are the “must have” gifts, everything we think will satisfy us? Often, we collapse in exhaustion, glad it’s over until next year, and before long it is back to the same-old same-old. When we receive the true “must have”, when we accept Jesus into our lives, exhaustion gives way to new energy, temporary gladness is replaced by lasting joy, and nothing stays the same. The Scripture readings help us understand this.

When Isaiah the prophet foretold long ago the coming of Christ in the birth of a child, he spoke of the event as light shining on a people dwelling in darkness. When it is dark, we can’t see, we are unable to find direction, and we bump into one another. This image used by Isaiah centuries ago speaks directly to our situation today as well. The darkness of hatred and moral confusion that envelops much of the world keeps us from finding paths to peace, and causes us to run into and over one another in ways that lead to refugee crises, domestic violence, poverty and homelessness. To this sorry state, Jesus brings the light of Heaven, which enables us to see the truth about God’s love and his saving plan. Jesus enlightens the inner vision of our minds and hearts so that we are able to focus correctly upon the dignity of each and every human being and to see the eternal destiny that is ours.

When we see clearly, we live rightly. That’s what St. Paul is explaining in the second reading. Jesus teaches us, he says, how to live upright and godly lives, and makes clear the need to divest ourselves of all patterns of behaviour and thought that are unholy, not in keeping with our Christian dignity. Living rightly in this life is the way to living eternally in the next.

No wonder Jesus is the “must have” gift. Only when we receive him and live according to his teachings will the deepest desire of our hearts find satisfaction. So, no wonder also that the angels announce joy to the shepherds. The gift we must have has come to us and is freely given in the birth of the Christ child. As we celebrate this solemn mass of Christmas, let us pray for the grace truly to welcome him and thus know and experience for ourselves the joy he came to bring.

Most Rev. Richard W. Smith
Archbishop of Edmonton