The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him.
— The Gospel of Saint John, 1:9-11
What’s the right way to celebrate Christmas? Many will probably rattle off the usual suspects, so to speak: attending Mass, preferably at midnight; giving gifts, especially to the poor and needy; and bringing the family together at noche buena dinner or Christmas day lunch.
All those are certainly right ways to mark the birth of our Lord in the little town of Bethlehem 2,016 years ago.
They express and affirm the values of faith, hope, charity, and family, epitomized in the Nativity. We pray, we care, and we come together in love. What better way to celebrate Christmas, right?
Away in a manger
Yet something may be missing in all those well-worn ways of cherishing Christ’s coming into the world: the manger.
No, not the traditional belen which churches and Christian homes may display for the faithful’s edification and devotion. Rather, our usual ways of cherishing the birth of God’s Son may fail to share one fundamental part of what the Holy Family and God Himself went through on the first Christmas: discomfort.
Instead of spending the night, not to mention giving birth, in a comfortable room at a proper dwelling, Joseph had to let Mary bring forth the Savior of the world in the midst of animals in a manger. Lofty humanity has to spend the night among unspeaking, unthinking, unloving, and unbelieving beasts.
And infinitely more out of His comfort zone, the Creator and Master of the universe, the Son of the Living God, the Eternal Word through Whom everything came to be, entered our fallen world, leaving the infinite bliss, purity and power of heaven to embrace the pain, grime, and helplessness of earth.
Even worse, as the Gospel reading in the daytime Catholic mass recounts, “He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him.”
The God Whose image is imprinted in us, and Who brought us forth from nothingness, we reject. To Him with Whom we should be most comfortable and Whom we should be most eager to welcome, we close the door of the fully booked inn.
Can one get more uncomfortable and uncomforting than that?
Actually, yes. Being from Bethlehem, Joseph should have found relatives to host his family, at least for a night, especially with Mary heavy with child and due to give birth. So why did the Holy Family have to look for an inn?
One explanation is that word got around about Mary becoming pregnant before she and Joseph lived together as husband and wife. And no righteous self-respecting Jewish family would allow such a woman to enter and stain their home.
The Immaculate Ever-Virgin Mother of God spurned by relations repelled by her seeming ill-repute, prefiguring her own Son’s future rejection by the Jews, who saw unforgivable affronts to the law and the Lord God in Jesus’s message that His Father sent Him into the world to redeem us. The self-righteous eschew the Author and Judge of what is right and just.
Get out of your comfort zone
Hence, to celebrate and share the fullness of Christmas, complete with its divinely ordained and embraced discomforts, we have to get out of our comfort zones and do what may seem wrong for the season.
Like mortification. Fasting and other penances are usually saved for Lent and Holy Week, so doing it at Christmas is not only uncomfortable and unseasonal, but certainly in line with the privations endured by Jesus, Mary and Joseph on the first Noel.
And prayer, too: How about reciting the 14 Stations of the Cross? People may look and wonder if one has got the months mixed up, as you genuflect, reflect, and pray before the images of Christ’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection. But the Lord above shall smile and bless.
After all, as early as His birth, the myrrh for funeral anointing, given by the Magi, and the Holy Family’s flight from Herod’s murderous troops already pointed at His agonies at 33. So why not remember the wood of Cross amid the grass of the manger?
Are you uncomfortable yet? Keep going.
Reading Scripture isn’t something done before feasting on the ham, bibingka, tsokolate, and queso de bola at noche buena, but why not? Especially if one’s family wishes to share the Holy Family’s discomfort, and read and reflect on it, too.
Not to mention hearing God’s inspired Word to relive and deepen our faith in His begotten Word. If anything, those uncomfortable minutes of reading before repast should bring the greatest comfort of all: cherishing that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
Now if you’ve got the family to accept the discomfort of listening to God in Holy Scripture before any table banter, why not go the whole hog and do what the innkeeper didn’t: let someone who has no roof over his or her head at Christmas share your residence and repast for a night? If that makes the family queasy, that’s the first step to true holiness.
Perhaps the most uncomfortable way to celebrate Christmas, one that is reprised in many a Yuletide movie, even in the rollicking “Home Alone,” is forgiveness and reconciliation.
Bringing together those long separated by hurt, dispute, mistrust, and other wrongs — that is the Christmas discomfort that most pleases our Lord, the greatest birthday gift we can offer, and the best way to fulfill the saving mission of forgiving our sins, for which He was born.