Christmas is one of the most important celebrations of the life of the Church, falling just behind the Resurrection of our Lord on Easter. But Christmas isn’t simply a day — it’s a season, and it often finds itself at odds with secular society’s celebration of the holiday.
The liturgical season of Christmas begins with the vigil Masses on Christmas Eve and concludes on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which will be observed on January 12. The U.S. bishops have noted that during this season “we celebrate the birth of Christ into our world and into our hearts, and reflect on the gift of salvation that is born with Him … including the fact that He was born to die for us.”
This is what our hearts have been preparing for during the season of Advent. A time of quiet anticipation, Advent lays out a path toward Jesus’ birth at Christmas. This is why we often find churches remain low-key when it comes to decorations, music and other festive details. By doing so, the Church is helping us to make room in our hearts and minds, and giving us a space to quietly contemplate amid the hectic preparations — buying presents, decorating the tree and making cookies — that go on in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
Attendees of the Kenrick-Glennon Seminary Advent Novena recently described the annual event as a time to put the pause button, so to speak, on life. Jenny Baur, who attended with her husband and two daughters, said “it forces you to put it into the proper perspective and take the nine days and just be quiet. Everything stops for those nine days — there’s no shopping, none of that. It’s just a really good hour to sit and be quiet. I love sitting in the dark of that beautiful chapel.”
This kind of preparation gives way for a great celebration. We must do our part to put Christ at the center of Christmas. We are called during this season — not just one day — to share the Good News of Jesus’ birth, and the important role it plays in salvation history. We cannot keep that message to ourselves.
In his column in this week’s Review, Archbishop Robert J. Carlson describes Jesus as a light that shines in the darkness, and we are called to bring His light to every darkness that we encounter. “Jesus is the light who brings the forgiveness of sins, which gives us hope of eternal life,” he wrote. The darkness that we experience through sin and despair can be transformed if only we allow Him to enter into our hearts.
Our Lord’s redemptive mercy is something worth celebrating on more than just one day — it’s something worthy of celebrating for an entire season, and throughout the whole year. As His disciples, we are called to share that message with others, too.
Keep wishing “Merry Christmas” all season.