It is Christmas and we all think back on Christmases past not without a bit of nostalgia for what the feast represents. We think back on Christmas trees, manger scenes and midnight Masses. We recall family dinners, marveling children and Christmas carols. Such memories fill us with joys in a brutal world ever more joyless.
The celebration of Christmas is part of our long Christian tradition. It is not only the personal memories that so capture the imagination but our participation in this long tradition that spans centuries. We all are part not only of our own celebrations but we also share in celebrations in all places and all times that have welcomed the Christ Child. Whether in magnificent cathedrals or humble chapels, in good times or bad, in full freedom or in prisons, all these Christmases truly become ours and we rightly savor them.
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This is the great beauty of true tradition. Through it, we are able to participate in those good things of the past–and provide them a future. True tradition preserves and passes down the essence of what is most good and valuable. It preserves that which we experience and want to savor. It allows us to share joyfully with others in our families, communities and nation a common practice that celebrates our identity and makes us who we are.
There are those who do not understand tradition. They associate it with stagnation, abuses and restraint. They do not realize that true tradition is an affirmation and projection of one’s personality and family over time. They do not see that tradition is only tradition when it is good, dynamic and progressing. Tradition must be constantly purifying and perfecting itself much like the distillation process makes excellent spirits ever freer of impurities and sediment. Tradition’s memories must age over time, allowing the full flavor to appear. Thus, tradition does not distort but rather leaves us with the pure essence of reality, from which we can progress yet more.
This is especially true of Christmas. In this case, the reality is so overwhelmingly magnificent that it is hard not to be overawed with wonder and delight. On that ineffable night when our Savior was born to Mary Ever Virgin, an immense impossibility became possible: the God-man was born. The path to our redemption was opened. It made possible a Christian order in which the Commandments and counsels were practiced.
Thus, the celebration of Christmas Eve is impregnated with the notion of the birth of Our Savior where, in that holy and silent night, one can sense the irresistible sweetness and perfection that emanates from the Divine Infant in the manger in Bethlehem. Christmas thus calls and invites us to celebrate and observe our holy traditions.
We are called to do this in a neo-pagan and commercialized world that tries to take Christ out of Christmas. Yet, the power of Christ is ironically highlighted not diminished by these efforts. Despite all the forces that conspired against Him, the celebration of the birth of this tiny Child stops Wall Street trading, defies communist dictators and illuminates ugly modern buildings. This same Child also lightens the heavy hearts of those under trial and delights the innocence of little children everywhere. The Divine Infant forces us all to put aside the frenetic intemperance of our days and turn for a moment toward that which is most important—the adoration of our God.
Christian worshippers from Nigeria pray at the Church of Nativity, traditionally believed by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem on Christmas Eve, Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2013. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)
Our Christmas traditions still survive because we rightly hold on to the distillation of memories make sublime over the ages. Let us make this our defense against the empty din of soulless holiday spending and parties. Our joyful celebrations must vanquish the secular retailers who wage their shameless war on a merry Christmas. Our public displays must welcome the Christ Child who is banished from the public square.
If we do this, our efforts will make future Christmas memories yet more sublime. For in saner times to come, it will be recalled that when Christ was abandoned by a postmodern world, there were those who remained faithful to God and upheld their traditions. There were those sublime Christians who defied the world and joined with Christians from all times and all places, joyfully proclaiming: Puer natus est nobis, Et filius datus est nobis. “For a child is born to us, and a son is given to us.”(Is. 9:6)
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