The Lesson and the Spirit of Christmas

“We have to recreate in our hearts and homes this spiritual experience by thinking of the great challenges that befell Jesus from His birth.” – Father Shay Cullen

Christmas has become a secular, unspiritual holiday. These days, the word Christmas is not used on festive banners. Greetings have changed to “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings”, but seldom do we see signs or cards with “We wish you a Blessed and Holy Christmas”. This secularisation and commercialisation of a sacred Christian event has removed Christ from Christmas. Both the spiritual meaning of the event and the Infant Jesus himself are missing from Christmas, having been sidelined by the glare of glittering lights, dazzling tinsel, and the blaring sounds of what passes for Christmas tunes. Rarely do we hear the hymn “Silent Night, Holy Night”, or the name of Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah who was born to save the world from evil, hunger, sickness and injustice.

The deeds and names of the most powerful rich leaders, emperors, kings, and queens long withered to insignificance while the simple wisdom and self-sacrifice of Jesus, this Godly Man, continues to inspire millions and change the world. Because the world always needs changing, His words, wisdom and spiritual presence have to be remembered and renewed by every generation – that is the purpose of the Christmas celebration; and it is why we have to look again at the meaning of the Christmas story. It’s not as benign and sweet as the image of the cute baby in the straw would lead us to believe.

We have to recreate in our hearts and homes this spiritual experience by thinking of the great challenges that befell Jesus – from His birth; throughout His short life; and to His untimely, unjust and tragic execution by ambitious and power-hungry religious leaders, and a crude and unjust Roman official.

He came to give us a way to transform our own lives and the world around us. He brought compassion, care, love, friendship, unselfish sacrifice, and dignity for women and children. He showed us the courage which we as His followers must have in speaking out and confronting evil.

His birth was not an easy painless event: Mary, His young mother, suffered birth pains, fear, want, and acute embarrassment for being unmarried. She was forced to leave her village, alone and helpless with Joseph, whom she hardly knew at that time. She was surely shocked by the sudden delivery, with no medical help or even a midwife. The delivery was so urgent that the family had to take refuge in an animal shelter. They were rejected from the inn, likely because Mary was pregnant and, being poor, also unable to pay for shelter. King Herod’s death threats against all children younger than two led to genocide; children were the enemy. Jesus’ family fled, as refugees, to a distant land – as immigrants do today.

We are still in a world of evil, injustice, hunger, and selfish consumption; but we don’t have to belong to it, be owned by it or corrupted by it. We have the example of Jesus of Nazareth to live by and to inspire our youth to care for others and find happiness that way. That is the spirit and lesson of Christmas; let’s live it every day.

By Father Shay Cullen