It’s not easy to rally some of the true spirit of Christmas and commercialism and excess are not our only obstacles.

Ron Rolheiser, OMI



Amid the many cruelties of this year, how can we warm up to a season of tinsel and festivity? Can we continue to romanticize the pilgrimage of one poor couple searching for shelter two thousand years ago amidst the plight of the millions of refugees today who are journeying without even a stable as a refuge?

Does it mean anything to speak of peace after various elections polarized our nations and left millions unable to speak civilly to their neighbors?  Where exactly is the peace and goodwill in our world today?

Closer to home, there are our own personal tragedies: the death of loved ones, lost marriages, lost families, lost health, lost jobs, lost time, tiredness, frustration. How do we celebrate the birth of a redeemer in a world which looks shockingly unredeemed and with hearts that mostly feel heavy and fatigued?

The Christmas story is not easily made credible. How do we maintain the belief that God came down from heaven, took on human flesh, conquered all suffering, and altered the course of human history?

Incarnation is not yet the resurrection. Flesh in Jesus, as in us, is human, vulnerable, weak, incomplete, needy, painfully full of limit, suffering. Christmas celebrates Christ’s birth into these things, not his removal of them. Christ redeems limit, evil, sin and pain. But they are not abolished.

Given that truth, we can celebrate at Christ’s birth without in any way denying or trivializing the real evil in our world and the real pain in our lives. Christmas is a challenge to celebrate while still in pain.

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

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