This Christmas season, think small

By  Charles Lewis
  • December 13, 2011

As far as I can tell, there is no such thing as a Christmas resolution. It seems resolutions belong exclusively to New Year’s Day and normally involve such self-help promises as lose weight, exercise more, quit smoking, pay off the credit card, learn a new language or take dancing lessons.

But maybe Catholics should shift their emphasis to resolutions that reflect the birth of the Saviour and make promises that align ourselves to what the Incarnation means to us in our Christian pilgrimage.

The exterior issues are important but what about the interior Christian life? What do shopping frenzies say about the birth of Christ? How do we worship His entrance into the world properly if we run ourselves down by adding pressure that has little to do with the birth of our King?

This hardly needs to be said but Christmastime for many has become a burden of fulfilling the desires of those on our gift lists. No matter how many times we remind ourselves that Christ was born into poverty, that His entry into the world was small rather than grand, our outward expression of Christmas becomes exactly the opposite.

Years ago I passed a pawn shop in Ottawa during the first week of January. There was a lineup of people carrying expensive gifts they realized they could not actually pay for. The owner told me it was like that every year. I do not think I ever saw a sadder sight.

Today that financial burden gets shifted to growing and burdensome credit-card debt but the feeling of getting in over our heads financially remains the same. What is so joyous about that?

None of this is about absolutes. It’s about finding a balance between expressing love to those we love and also expressing our love for God.

If Christianity calls for us to follow Christ above all others, how do our shopping habits and perpetual busyness conform to that very clear call?

Perhaps the way to start making Christmas resolutions is by thinking small, just like Jesus in the manger.

“Christ always seeks the straw of the most desolate cribs to make His Bethlehem,” wrote Thomas Merton many years ago. Think about what the means. Where is Christ going to settle?

It is a perfect reflection of Psalm 51:

“O Lord, open thou my lips, and my mouth shall show forth thy praise. For thou hast no delight in sacrifice; were I to give a burnt offering, thou wouldst not be pleased. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.”

A resolution could be a simple promise to God to pray more often. It could be deciding not to put off, once again, embarking on a serious reading of the Scriptures. It could even be a promise to spend more time with Mary through the rosary.

It could be reading Luke during the days leading up to Dec. 25 so to remember Mary’s raw joy at what became the first moments of a new world opening up. It could be meditating on how much Joseph took upon his shoulders in the service of the Lord. And to think about how a baby in a cold barn rose to change the entire world.

In Mere Christianity, the great C.S. Lewis wrote: “The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God.”

Merton also wrote of his first year in the monastery: “In all other Christmases of my life, I had got a lot of presents and a big dinner. This Christmas I was to get no presents, and not much of a dinner: but I would have, indeed, Christ Himself, God, the Saviour of the world.”

None of it sounds like an invitation to shop our way into exhaustion and debt.

(Lewis covers religion for the National Post and is editor of its religion web site, Holy Post. He’s on Twitter @holycharlie.)

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