The Adoration of the Child is depicted in this 17th-century painting by Dutch artist Gerard van Honthorst. CNS photo/Uffizi Gallery in Florence

Cathy Majtenyi: Christmas story holds many life lessons

  • December 17, 2020

It’s that time again. We rush through the shops, picking those perfect presents for our loved ones. Family and friends will soon surround our Christmas table for a feast, followed by robust caroling and gift exchanging.

Or not.

We all know that Christmas is going to be very different this year. Our expectations for the usual festivities are dashed by a pandemic that we could have never have imagined 12 months ago.

Social distance requirements pretty much confine our celebrations to our own households. Depending on where you live, in-person shopping for gifts is problematic or impossible.

Of course, we can adjust. Many families are planning virtual celebrations that, while not ideal, is the best we can do under the circumstances. But as we create our alternative plans, let’s think of a possibility that, over the years, has gotten lost in the materialism and mayhem of the season. Let’s put “Christ” back into Christmas!

Stripped of all the season’s distractions and pressures, this is a wonderful opportunity to reflect very deeply on the tremendous gift Christ gave us by taking the form of a man, living among us and dying for our eternal salvation.

Christmas represents a moment of incredible hope for humankind. Mary’s simple but powerful “yes” to God’s plan set in motion a series of events that have changed the course of divine and human history.

There is so much in the Christmas narrative to reflect upon and apply to our own lives. When God speaks to us and calls us to take on a certain activity, direction or change in our lives, do we respond as Mary did? Do we even know how to listen? Do we take time for daily prayer and Bible reading?

Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth is a beautiful example of reaching out to others to give, and receive, love and support. Do we do that ourselves? Do we share with one another all the miracles and wonders God has worked in our own lives and in the world around us?

There are dark moments in Mary’s life, where she almost loses Joseph and certainly the acceptance of the community around her. Do we criticize and gossip about others? Do we condemn someone without knowing their full circumstances? Do we allow legalism to block the flow of love to others and ourselves?

The birth itself is rather dramatic. Mary and Joseph are clearly in distress, yet doors are shut in their faces, one by one. The stable, home to farm animals, is the ultimate symbol of a poverty that dehumanizes and stigmatizes. Do we judge people — especially who we consider to be poor and lowly — based on superficial appearances? Do we help, or hinder, those who are less fortunate than us?

These questions take on even more urgent significance in this era of COVID-19. Tempers are flaring, nerves are fraying and many people are suffering physical, mental, emotional, financial and spiritual distress. We need to be strong in our relationship with Christ, His word and our Church to respond to those needs and to not lose hope ourselves.

A vaccine for the coronavirus is on the horizon. When it does arrive in full force, we need to ensure that society’s most vulnerable are first in line.

The pandemic has taken a toll on small and family-owned businesses in particular and has exacerbated the vulnerability of those working in part-time, low-income and precarious employment. We need to reach out and support people as their livelihoods are being threatened or destroyed.

Issues of equity and justice, such as what were discussed during Black Lives Matter events earlier this year, continue to need our commitment to upholding. Protections for the elderly and sick are eroding with recent advances in euthanasia legislation.

This year’s relatively muted season also allows us to reflect upon what we learned, and how we grew, during the pandemic.

The cancellation of so many of our activities through lockdowns and other measures have hopefully given us the space and breathing room to determine what’s really important in our lives: family, friends, goals and activities, prayer and resting in God’s love.

Let us carry the insights and lessons we learned this year into the New Year as we seek to re-build our lives and our community. God has given us a wonderful opportunity to start again and to emerge from 2020 stronger and more faithful.

(Majtenyi is a public relations officer who specializes in research communications at an Ontario university.)

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