The Missionary Magic of the Season

It seems that every year, before the Thanksgiving turkey is fully digested, we are suddenly surrounded by the music, decorations, and sentiments of Christmas. Along the way, almost every advertiser taps into the “magical” quality of the holiday season and encourages us to do one thing: buy stuff.

And my inner curmudgeon always responds with a big “Bah humbug!”

What gives all these corporations the right to reduce this holy season to nothing more than an annual sales strategy? To eclipse Advent with endless Christmas ads? And then to cut off our 12-day celebration of the real Christmas season right when it’s getting started?

But then I have to admit: complaining about the commercialization of Christmas never helped much with our mission to make disciples. As with all things, our call is always to let our “missionary impulse” transform how we live out the Christmas holiday season.

On the one hand, we know that Christmas does not begin right after Thanksgiving. We know that Advent has only just begun. We take this time to prepare for the coming of Christ to the stable in Bethlehem and for his return in glory at the end of time. We know that Christmas without Advent is like Easter without Lent: it loses its true meaning and spiritual fruitfulness. We know this, and we can live this out in many ways in our families and parishes and schools, as many of us do.

But on the other hand, many of our brothers and sisters only know a commercialized version of Christmas … and yet they still love it. There exists a profound, purely human attraction to this Christian holiday – this “holy day” – an attraction to a uniquely “magical” time of the year, set apart from the every day struggles and routines. This attraction is one more proof that we all yearn for something that gives our lives meaning and transcendent value, something that can only be expressed in special music, decorations, feasting, traditions, rituals, and gatherings. And this is where we see an opportunity for evangelization.

Whenever we have the chance, we should simply offer them what every human heart desires: to be known, loved, and forgiven. In a word, we should offer them an encounter with Jesus Christ. We can invite them into God’s family, where we know that the “magic” of Christmas is not an empty sentiment used to sell things: it’s the atmosphere of a mysterious love story between God and his people, a story that happens to be true and have a very happy ending.

There are so many ways we can do this at Christmas. Just one example: all of the more active parishioners in one parish decided that they would stop complaining about the crowds at Christmas who sat in their front pews. Instead, they chose to do two things: first, to sit in a hall nearby and participate via live video so those who only came for Christmas could have the best seats; and second, to volunteer for all kinds of hospitality ministries to make everyone feel welcome and at home. In this way they were able to share their joy with those seeking the true meaning of Christmas and thus made their own joy “complete.”

What might you be able to do in your parish to share the joy of knowing Jesus Christ with others this Christmas?

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