It's pretty obvious looking around that we know how to celebrate Christmas. The streets, storefronts, and houses are all aglow in beautiful lights and decorations. The radio stations are all playing favorite Christmas carols and songs. Favorite Christmas-themed TV shows are broadcast daily, and new holiday shows are created and shown every year. Yes, we do know how to celebrate Christmas, but do we really stop and think about why we're celebrating? It is merely for an excuse to give gifts and get family and friends together for an elaborate meal, or is there something far deeper and more profound to our celebrations?
For several years, the Knights of Columbus have supported and spread an annual campaign: "Keep Christ in Christmas". The primary purpose of this campaign is to go against the secularization of this most holy of holy days, trying to prevent Christmas from becoming a generic winter holiday with warm fuzzy feelings and not much substance.
While that primary purpose is laudable, and should be highly encouraged, I think there's another way that we can "Keep Christ in Christmas". For most of us who are Christians, do we ever think about how profound the Christmas message really is? How many of us stop and look at a manger scene with amazement that the God who created us and loves us became man?
St. Paul obviously thought long and hard about the incarnation, the second person of the Trinity becoming human. He reminds his listeners, and us in the second reading, that God showed His power and love to the Israelite people during their time of captivity in Egypt, through the Exodus out of that country, and by establishing them as a nation in the Promised Land. This God, who did such great and powerful things for the Israelite people, then deigned to be come one of them, being born as a descendant of the great king David.
In our Gospel this evening, we hear the seemingly long and drawn out genealogy of Jesus. To our modern ears, many of the names seem strange, foreign names from a foreign land. For the people that St. Matthew was writing to, this genealogy set the stage for the fulfillment of God's promise to His people. In fact, you may have recognized some of the names in the list, such as King David, as would many in the Jewish audience to whom St. Matthew was trying to proclaim the Gospel.
This genealogy is important, not only for Jews of the first and second century but also for us, because it shows the history of salvation from the Patriarchs Abraham, Issac, and Jacob down to the coming of Our Lord. Abraham was promised that he would be the father of a great nation, as numerous as the stars in the sky. This genealogy shows, in a summary, how this promise was fulfilled. More importantly, it shows to us who are not of Jewish descent how salvation came to us through God's plan for the Israelite nation.
The fact that God fulfilled this promise of salvation of all humanity is amazing enough, but the Gospel goes on to show us the way in which this promise was fulfilled. God could have used a great military leader or political figure to save the people of Israel, but instead He sent His Son as a tiny baby born under humble circumstances. He truly is Emmanuel, "God is with us". (Matthew 1:23)
This innocent child, born in a shelter for animals, is fully God and fully human. God became one of us to save us from our sins. He came to Earth to give His life in sacrifice so that we might have life eternal. When we look at Our Lord in the manger, we see the Cross overshadowing Him. This is why we celebrate this holy day. This is why it's so important to "Keep Christ in Christmas". Christmas would be pointless if we didn't recognize the one for whom we celebrate.
On this Christmas Eve, I wish all of you a very Merry Christmas, and hope that this Christmas season is one of joy and peace for you and your families. During this season, I encourage you to take time with your families and friends to reflect on the most wonderful gift we've all received on Christmas: the birth of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.