The incarnate God is called Emmanuel, a name which means God-is-with-us.

Ron Rolheiser, OMI

That fact does not mean immediate festive joy. Our world remains wounded, and wars, strikes, selfishness, and bitterness linger. Our hearts too remain wounded. Pain lingers. For a Christian, just as for everyone else, there will be incompleteness, illness, death, senseless hurt, broken dreams, cold, hungry, lonely days of bitterness and a lifetime of inconsummation. Reality can be harsh, and Christmas does not ask us to make make-believe.

The incarnation does not promise heaven on earth. It promises heaven in heaven. Here, on earth, it promises us something else – God’s presence in our lives. This presence redeems because knowing that God is with us is what ultimately empowers us to give up bitterness, to forgive, and to move beyond cynicism and bitterness. When God is with us then pain and happiness are not mutually exclusive, and the agonies and riddles of life do not exclude deep meaning and deep joy.

In the words of Avery Dulles: “The incarnation does not provide us with a ladder by which to escape from the ambiguities of life and scale the heights of heaven. Rather, it enables us to burrow deep into the heart of planet earth and find it shimmering with divinity.”  George Orwell prophesied that our world would eventually be taken over by tyranny, torture, double-think, and a broken human spirit. To some extent this is true. We’re a long way from being whole and happy, still deeply in exile.

However, we need to celebrate Christmas heartily. Maybe we won’t feel the same excitement we once felt as children when we were excited about tinsel, lights, Christmas carols, and special gifts and special food. Some of that excitement isn’t available to us anymore.  But something more important is still available, namely, the sense that God is with us in our lives, in our joys as well as in our shortcomings.

The word was made flesh. That’s an incredible thing, something that should be celebrated with tinsel, lights, and songs of joy. If we understand Christmas, the carols will still flow naturally from our lips.

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