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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

The scandal of Christmas

“Christmas serves more than just to make us feel good.”

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My seminary classmate, Fr. Paulino Cabahit, who now serves as the parish priest of Our Lady of Fatima Parish, gave an insightful reflection during this Christmas midnight mass. With his kind permission, I would like to share excerpts from his homily on this column.

There is a story that I love to tell when I officiate weddings. It is a short story from the book the Gift of the Magi by O. Henry. It is in fact familiar to many.

It tells of a young couple named Della and Jim. In the story, they were newly married and deeply in love. However, they were poor. The only thing of value to the husband was his locket watch given to him by his father and the only thing of value to the wife was her beautiful hair. When it was Christmas time, they thought of giving each other a gift but secretly. Since the wife saw that the locket of her husband didn’t have a chain she decided to buy one for him as a gift. But considering that she was poor, she did not have money, and the thing of value to her was her hair she decided to have her hair cut and sell it. The husband in turn observed that her wife had a beautiful hair but did not have a beautiful comb for it so he decided to buy an expensive set of beautiful combs. Having no money himself he decided to sell his beautiful locket watch.

When the time for them to exchange their pointless gifts came – pointless because there was no beautiful hair to comb anymore and no locket watch to put the chain on, they wept. But they did not weep because their gifts were pointless, they wept because they understood their great love for each other since they were willing to sacrifice the thing that is of most value to them.

That is what true love is. Since God is love, what God did for us, he did out of love. God the Father sacrificed His only Son for us. Jesus sacrificed Himself, embracing our humanity.

That is what Christmas is all about. It is about God becoming man, an ultimate sacrifice made out of love.

Unless we understand this reality of God becoming one with us, we would not be able to understand Christmas.

Christmas is actually a wild idea. Imagine God becoming man. Imagine the Father sacrificing His Son. We cannot even imagine a human father sacrificing his son for a stray dog in order to save the dog’s life or even if it’s their favorite pet dog. The family will just let it die and just get a new one. But the distance between man and God is even greater and abysmal than the distance between a human being and an animal. But that was what happened when God became man and because of his great love sacrificed himself for humanity.

Unfortunately, society, the popular culture has domesticated the supposedly wild idea of Christmas. We have over-sentimentalized it. For many it is a season that is supposed to make us feel good. And the reason for feeling good is so superficial. Because it is time for receiving gifts. It has become a time for bonuses, vacations, and for families to get together.

Don’t get me wrong, families getting together is very good, is a great value but even non-Christians value it too. Christmas is particularly Christian so Christmas should be more than that. It is meant for all of us to understand God’s great love for humanity.

It is a love that, according to St. Ignatius of Loyola, is supposed to confound or confuse us.

That is why theologians even go to the extent of calling Christmas as a great scandal. The scandal of the incarnation. Scandal not because it is immoral but a scandal because it is something outrageous and unacceptable. It is confusing. The incarnation—God becoming man—understood well is actually counter intuitive. It is not what our intuition would easily accept.

For us to go deeper into this reality, let me give you an example. Suppose for example you were drunk and despite of being drunk you still drove. Because of being irresponsible by drunk driving, you met an accident killing a boy and the boy is the only child of a rich couple. A most awaited child of the couple but you ended up killing the boy. Just imagine you are in prison and in prison you meet the parents and the parents will hug you and tell you that everything is ok, they forgave you and they are not pressing any charges. How would you feel? Surely you would be confused. That is not what I deserve. I deserve to be punished! But that is God’s love—counter intuitive, confusing! That is what Christmas is all about.

But wait there’s more! After a week of that accident, the couple calls you telling you that since their son died, they are making you their heir. How could this happen? Counterintuitive, confusing! That is what God’s love is.

If you find the example surreal, the truth even sounds more bizarre! The Church Fathers time and again made this declaration and it is echoed until now by the Church. “Deus fit homo ut homo fieret deus.” It means that God became one of us so that we might become god! In order to save us, he became man but in saving us we even got more, we were given divinity not by possession of course but by participation.

Haven’t we been hearing – We are now adopted children of God. After Christ’s death on the cross, God adopted us as his children. How bizarre is this? But this is the truth. We have been forgiven from our sins. But more than that when God redeemed us, he forgave us and gave us even something more, he made us into his children.

The idea of romanticizing Christmas or over sentimentalizing it is not bringing us to the true meaning of Christmas. Christmas serves more than just to make us feel good, it should bring us to the realization of what God did for us out of love. It should inspire to think even more deeply on the scandal of the incarnation, on the scandal of God’s radical love that comes to us in Jesus Christ!

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16)

Happy Christmas everyone!

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