Keeping "Christ" in Christmas
By Fr. Tirso Villaverde
St. Thomas of Canterbury, Chicago
Before the Thanksgiving holiday, we may have heard the controversy with the “red cups” at Starbucks. If we are not familiar with it, the objection was raised by some Christian groups that the coffee company removed all semblances of Christmas from their cups choosing instead to use cups that are simply red in color. To be clear, the symbols that the company most likely had used in the past were never really religious in nature but the argument was that Starbucks was discriminating against Christians for whom Christmas is an important holiday. Obviously, from a marketing standpoint, the move to plain red cups was most likely an effort to avoid offending those who do not celebrate Christmas for whatever reason. No matter where each one of us stands on the issue, as we near the celebration of the birth of our Savior, we perhaps need to be clear ourselves on what truly is important.
CHICAGO Archbishop Blase Cupich (3rd from Right) poses with Gawad Kalinga partner Jan Paul Ferrer's guests and fellow GK advocates Nov. 12 at the University Club monthly forum on civic issues. Photo includes , GK area head Jun and Belle de Guia, GK advocates-Dr. Zita Yorro, John and Josie Disterhoft, PACF's Ruben Salazar and PINOY publisher Mariano "Anong" Santos. Cupich spoke on Pope Francis' leadership qualities and relevant topics like preventing city violence and reforming immigration. Ferrer works as a senior portfolio manager at Morgan Stanley.
On some level, Christians may never win the battle over the secularization of Christmas—at least not by forcing it to happen. It is an unfortunate occurrence that the secular world has slowly removed the original religious aspect from the Christmas holiday. In short, the secular and commercial worlds are no longer keeping Christ in Christmas.
However, I dare argue that it is perhaps not essential that we Christians focus on whether or not the secular world is keeping Christ in Christmas. Perhaps the more important issue is to ask whether we Christians are keeping Christ in Christmas.
The mystery of the Incarnation is one to be lived rather than understood, embraced rather than forced onto people. The Incarnation—God becoming human—reveals to us that God chose to become one of us in order to fill our human lives with His Divine Presence and Love. This means that God truly is with us just as the name of Jesus implies since he is Emmanuel, a name that literally means God-with-us. As Christians, perhaps the question we must start with is simply, “Are we aware that God truly is among us?”
The truth is if we are aware of God’s presence, it will show in the way we live our lives. If we know that God has made His home with us in our hearts and in our communities, that faith will reflect itself through concrete action and words. If we are constantly in tune with the life of God that dwells in each of us, it does not matter if the secular world chooses not to acknowledge Christ as the heart of the Christmas holiday. It will only matter that we are aware of it. But then, slowly and gradually, we will begin to notice that the secular world itself becomes transformed by our simple act of giving testimony to God’s love.
In many ways, the secular world will not be transformed by force. Coercion is not the Christian way because God does not impose Himself onto anyone. Instead, God invites people to become attracted to His way of life and to His teachings and to His commands. Then, when people experience the freedom and joy and peace that come from loving God and keeping God at the center of life, people follow God more freely and wholeheartedly.
Perhaps, this is the approach that we Christians must take when it comes to the proverbial frustration that many of us have when we see the growing secularization and commercialization of the Birth of Christ. The more Christians make it a point to keep Christ in Christmas more by the way we live our lives than by imposition of symbols, the more the world will be transformed by the grace of the God who chose to become human like us so that we humans can learn to be more like God. The more we live our lives with the constant awareness that God truly is with us, the more the rest of the world will see the difference it makes to keeping God at the heart of every celebration especially the one that celebrates the greatest gift of God’s own son.
Christ is in Christmas. Christ is in every day of the year. Let us keep Christ at the very heart of our lives and allow the love of God to direct everything we say and do.