Wednesday of the Third Week

Readings

IS 45:6C-8, 18, 21C-25

LK 7:18B-23

Reflection

We rush toward Christmas preoccupied by the concerns and cares of daily life. The culture pummels us with a barrage of messages which we unconsciously absorb, distracting us with decorations, food, gifts, cards, familial and social obligations. Somehow these distractions are presented as obligatory, expected by society, or even essential to a proper and polite way of life. 

Christmas music reveals a similar deterioration, replacing the focus of this season from Christ to materiality, and even a further degradation to the pursuit of pleasures. Not so long ago, the season was musically marked by traditional Christmas carols – eloquent, reverent, thought provoking and theologically rich with meaning. As we sang the words, the carols became vehicles for contemplation, a reminder of the true purpose of our celebrations.  Slowly the carols were replaced with cherry songs about Santa, toys, reindeer, snow, nostalgia for the past, as commercials and movies sparkled with the “magic” of Christmas. Now, the newest songs express romantic desires and focus on relationships, such as Mariah Carey’s “All I want for Christmas is you,” and a contemporary “Christmas” song in which Katy Perry sings, “a little whiskey, we’re getting frisky.”

Nothing could be further from the traditional carols which expressed wonder at the Incarnation of the Son of God, the fulfillment of humanity’s hopes for redemption and our deep longing to know God. In the classic Peanuts Christmas cartoon special, which first aired in 1965, Charlie Brown bemoaned the “commercialization” of Christmas. Since then we have rapidly descended from the commercialization of Christmas to the secularization of Christmas. If Katy Perry and Mariah Carey are any indication of what is to come, will we soon see the sexualization of Christmas? 

The Incarnation of the Son of God is the most profound of all Christian mysteries and the claim which most distinguishes the Christian faith from all other religious traditions.  “God became man, that we might become gods,” St. Athanasius expressed with succinct eloquence. God came to us, not to die on the cross to “pay” for our sins according to a “transactional” model of salvation which so quickly springs to mind in the Western Christian tradition. God became man that we might share His life, not merely by following His example. Having been made in His image, the full potential to acquire the likeness of God is open to us, the sanctification of each human being now made possible because of the incomprehensible union of the humanity and the divinity in the person of Jesus Christ. That is what we are truly celebrating at Christmas.  “He assumed the poverty of my flesh that I might assume the richness of his Godhead,” St. Gregory the Theologian of Nazianzus mused. God became man and sanctified human nature, allowing, with our free will and cooperation, the complete transformation of our lives, our minds, bodies and behavior to the likeness of God Himself. What greater gift could there possibly be?

We can and should experience the joy of friends, family and simple pleasures of the season, but without being lured away by the fleeting, empty vanities and expectations of the world. Perhaps the day may come when the sentiment, “All I want for Christmas is You” will be directed at the right Person: Jesus Christ, our Incarnate Lord.

Eugenia Constantinou, Ph.D.
Department of Theology and Religious Studies
University of San Diego