What is the true meaning of Christmas? G.K. Chesterton sheds some poetic light in explanation.
It is perfectly reasonable at this season of the year to ask whether people in general have lost the true meaning of Christmas. It would seem to many thoughtful observers that the significance attached to the birth of Christ has been buried deep beneath the rubble of gaudy tinsel, secular Christmas cards invoking every spirit but that of the Christ child, useless and unwanted presents one can't wait to take back to the store, eminently forgettable tasteless carols endlessly played everywhere including bathrooms, greasy turkey dinners served up at the boring round of staff parties one feels bound to attend in a frame of mind that has nothing to do with the joy of welcoming Christ into the world.
Can anything fresh or striking be said about the great religious feast, so deeply embedded are we in the familiar themes and platitudes? What is a little more disconcerting is the ever more prevailing sense of increasing loss of the meaning of what we are precisely celebrating. This is to be expected in a largely secular environment, in a highly sophisticated materialistic society. Religious notions for many are a far distant or at best blurred memory of what used to be the norm in our childhood or early adolescence.
Crass ignorance ont the part of many
There is such callous indifference and crass ignorance on the part of many others to the greatest event in the history of mankind, the coming of God Himself in human flesh taken from the womb of the spotless Virgin beautifully described by Coventry Patmore in the splendid words "our tainted nature's solitary boast".
God sends his only begotten Son into the world to restore mankind to Himself. The incarnation is the great healing of a lost and suffering humanity trapped in the snares of wickedness and sin, incapable of redeeming itself or finding the true path to God, unable to discover that necessary return to sanity and sanctity, the only hope of mankind. The incarnation, is the greatest act of God's mercy extended to all men of good will.
It is, however, only the humble, such as the shepherds and wise men, who will find Him where he is most unlikely to be found — in a animal's trough not in the warmth and comfort of a kingly palace but in a outhouse, a borrowed home where in the future all men will turn at the last. In the delightful poem of the English writer G.K. Chersterton we have the essence of the Christmas spirit,
To an open house in the evening Home shall all men come,
To an older place than Eden And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and are
To the place where God was homeless And all men are at home."
Heart of the Christmas message
It is equally true when we consider the the heart of the Christmas message that if we pay homage to the child on our visit to Bethlehem we must also visit and reverence the mother.
As the same Chesterton observed:
In common life you cannot approach the child except through the mother, if we are to think of Christ in this aspect at all, the other idea follows as it is followed in history. We must either leave Christ out of Christmas or Christmas out of Christ or we must admit, if only as we admit it in an old picture that those holy heads are too near together for the haloes not to mingle and to cross."
Just as Christmas is the manifestation of the divine condescension so it is only in imitation of the humility of the simple, uncomplicated, honest, hardworking shepherds that we approach the Saviour of the world wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying on the wood which is a cruel premonition of his final end.
We are like those shepherds. In contrast to the Magi we come bearing no gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. There is really one thing only that we offer the child of Bethlehem on Christmas morn, ourselves purified, cleansed from the mire of sin. We come to receive not haggle or bargain, buy or sell like most of our fellow citizens. We come to wonder and adore not to rationalize and understand. We come in haste, joyful in spirit, ready to fall upon our knees. We are at our best, we poor humans are at our greatest when we acknowledge in prayer and gratitude the "the kindness and benignity of God our Saviour" who has appeared to us in mercy and saved us by the laver of regeneration and renovation of the Holy Ghost, through Jesus Christ.