The Church’s Christmas liturgy presents the birth of Jesus, the Saviour, as the light which pierces and dispels the deepest darkness.
Over the centuries “Christmas” has become a comprehensive word. It includes religious traditions which celebrate the mystery of God’s coming to live among human creatures: “Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord”( Lk10:11-12 ). Christmas also includes all the secular traditions associated with the season.
With the Father’s gift of Jesus as a model, Christians also celebrate the mystery of giving and receiving both with and without Christian faith. Christmas incorporates numerous pre–Christians traditions concerning the winter solstice along with the legends of St. Nicolas that gives rise to the modern creation of Santa Claus.
A mixture, and even confusion, of the sacred and the secular characterizes the Christmas Season.
Most people are comfortable with this situation, as Silent Night sometimes alternates with Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
We can even find salvation stories buried in what appear, at first blush, to be purely secular creations.
We all know Rudolph’s story and how all of the other reindeer used to laugh and call him names. They never let poor Rudolf play in any reindeer games. But one day, all that was turned upside down. For on a foggy Christmas eve Santa came to say: Rudolf with your nose so bright, won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?
The story of Rudolf is modelled on the story of salvation and has even been called the “Reindeer Gospel” (Munachi Ezeogu).
To begin with, Rudolf was a misfit. Compared to the image of the ideal reindeer, we can say that something was definitely wrong with him. What is more, Rudolf could not help himself. All his fellow reindeer only made things worse for him. Only one person could help him, Santa, the messenger from heaven.
Similarly, St. Paul reminds us: “… all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Furthermore, we are not in a position to help ourselves. At Christmas, we celebrate the birth of the real Messenger from heaven. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1, 14). He comes to free us from our predicament of sinfulness. For it is sin that mars and disfigures the beautiful image of God that we all are.
The heavenly Messenger has the ability to turn the defects and red noses of our tainted humanity into assets for the service of God. Jesus is this heavenly messenger.
Like Rudolf’s yes, we too are called at Christmas “not to be afraid” but to listen to what the Child Jesus asks of us: “For to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God” (Jn 1:12).
In 1975, Robert L. May, the creator of Rudolph the Red–Nosed Reindeer, in a column “Rudolph and I were something alike” wrote: Today children all over the world read and hear about a little deer who started out in life as a loser, just as I did. But they learn that when he gave himself for others, his handicap became the very means through which he achieved happiness (Gettysburg Times).
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!
☩ Frederick Henry
Bishop Emeritus of Calgary