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The Feast of The Nativity

December 21, 2010
Last week we had a wonderful discussion on Perspectives Weekly about teaching our kids that Christmas is about Christ. We've never had so many comments on one program! One of the comments came from Warren Dungen, who suggested that we refer to "Christmas" as "the Nativity." To avoid any misunderstanding, I'd like to explain, because I really like that.
Warren is not suggesting the "Christmas" is not the best name for the feast, but the name "Christmas" comes with so much baggage and often refers to more than just the birth of Christ. (As an aside, for the Christmas Edition of S+L Radio we will learn how the celebration of Christmas began to move away from the celebration of the birth of Christ, to a more Dickensian celebration of family, and kindness to the poor.)
Nativity is a word that means, "birth." It is used to mean specifically, the "birth of Christ." Imagine me asking you, "how are you preparing for Christmas?" You will automatically think of all the presents you have to buy, or the parties you have to attend - the packing you have to do before you fly home... Now, if I asked, "how are you preparing for the Nativity?" You would think of something quite different. Calling it "the Nativity" forces us to re-focus on what the feast is really about. And it's not about presents, parties or going home. In fact, I'm pretty sure, that if you pray the Office of the Church, you will not see the word "Christmas" anywhere in any of the prayers or antiphons. It's always referred to as "the birth of Christ."
But it's hard to escape the baggage of Christmas. It’s usually about this time that I start thinking about all the people who get lonely at Christmas. It’s true. This holiday reminds us of family, of our childhood and many people don’t have that, or have issues to reconcile or a past that they would rather not remember. Secular Christmas brings all that to the forefront.
I read the other day that passage from Hosea where it says that God will bind up all our wounds (Hosea 6:1), and over and over this liturgical season we hear about God coming to save his people, to bring, not just peace, but justice. How many of us are waiting for justice and for our wounds to be bound? I’ve found myself praying more than ever for justice this year: justice in our homes, justice in our workplaces, in our classrooms, justice in our country, justice for the unborn, justice for the innocent, for those who’ve been hurt by the Church and justice for workers, for child soldiers, for those in the sex trade, for those living under totalitarian regimes… the list goes on.
There’s a story that I read with my kids for Advent called Jotham’s Journey by Arnold Ytreeide. At the beginning of the story, Jotham gets lost and a family takes him in. The father of the family says that they are waiting for the Messiah to “seek and save the lost” and so they too must help the lost. And so they take Jotham in. I really like that. If we are waiting for the Messiah to bind up our wounds and save us – to bring peace and justice, then, as we wait, we too are called to bind up each others wounds, and help each other, bring peace and act justly… that makes sense.
And the "Nativity" especially reminds us of this God who comes; this God who is God-with-us, Emmanuel. It’s a powerful message of love. Maybe that’s really why people feel lonely at Christmas – even people who don’t believe in God. It's not the parties, or the lack of presents or even the family get-togethers. That's Christmas. But Nativity reminds us of what real love is. And many of us have never experienced real love.
But we can.
And while we wait, we are called to show that love to each other. And so, there shouldn’t be any lonely people this Christmas, because we too are sent to “seek and save the lost.” Imagine if we all did that, wouldn’t that make Christmas more like what it should be? The Feast of the Nativity.

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