Christmas – December 25, 2022 

In the 1950’s, the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas wrote a short prose piece titled “A Child’s Christmas in Wales.”  It was a semi-autobiographical reminiscence about his childhood.  The story is filled with anecdotes about the eccentric behavior of family members and strained relationships with neighbors.  It’s also filled with happy memories, some of which were made happier by the amount of time that passed since the author’s childhood. 

At one point in the story, the central character, a child named Thomas, comments, “It was snowing on Christmas.  It was always snowing on Christmas.”  The author paints a vivid picture of an adult’s nostalgia for the seemingly simpler days of childhood; he describes the Christmas snows of his childhood as incomparably superior to any snow he saw later in life. 

Everyone remembers fondly the Christmases of their childhood.  This is true even in Florida where Christmas is not normally associated with snowfalls, sleigh rides, or roving carolers.  Such nostalgia is usually treated as a harmless indulgence, but it can turn into something dark and destructive. 

Christmas can be a season of emotional regression, that is, a return to a child’s perspective on the world.  The manger scenes and Bible stories of Christmas can act as catalysts for regressive behavior.  At this time of year, it’s easy to fall into childish wish-fulfillment or worse, a shallow, materialistic acquisitiveness.  Some people judge harshly the technological advances made by society or the cultural changes that are inevitable in society; for them, Christmas is a reminder of all that is wrong with the world. 

In recent years, I’ve seen a noticeable increase in the sort of toxic nostalgia that judges the world as degraded and inferior when compared to the past.  There is certainly anecdotal evidence to support a pessimistic judgment.  It is certainly true that life is not as simple as it was before social media, digital data tracking, spyware, and the like. 

At the same time, there are equally compelling reasons to be cheerful about, and grateful for, the changes to society that we enjoy today.  Due to the existence of a stable electrical power grid and the invention of central heating and air conditioning, we will be no colder this Christmas than we choose to be.  Thanks to online shopping, we were able to get Christmas shopping done from the comfort of our homes. 

There are a lot of reasons to be grateful about the lives we lead.  Above all, Christmas is inspiration to focus on gratitude rather than dissatisfaction. 

In the Incarnation, God came to us in human flesh.  As this was to fulfill God’s plan of salvation for the world, we are obliged to acknowledge the significance of the circumstances of the Savior’s birth.  Jesus wasn’t born to a family that was rich or influential.  He did not come as a conquering warrior, impressive hero, or powerful ruler.  He was born under the humblest circumstances imaginable and at great risk.  At the time Jesus was born, about 30% of children lived to age fifteen and about 95% of adults died before age thirty.  Jesus’ birth is rather shocking both for the humility shown by God and the tenuousness inherent in human life. 

The babe in the manger is not permission to be infantile.  Rather, it is an invitation to new innocence and lasting joy. 

While you’re being nostalgic this Christmas season, give some time to nostalgia over the circumstances of Jesus’ birth.  Remember the extreme poverty and powerlessness that God accepted for our benefit.  Remember the great risk that God took by entrusting his Son to a fallen world.  Remember the joy of those who found forgiveness through God’s consummate act of generosity.  Then, give someone else good cause to be nostalgic about Christmas: be the presence of God’s humility, favor, and trustworthiness to those around you. 

The world is constantly in a state of change.  Some of the changes in the world are good and others are lamentable.  God’s intention in the Incarnation was to bring lasting, redeeming change to the world.  We, the baptized, have a responsibility to spread the message of that change and to be agents for that change.  We accomplish this mission by being living reminders of the humility, innocence, and joy of the Incarnation. Happy Christmas!