Tonight we will be celebrating Christmas. For many of us, we have been celebrating Christmas year after year. But why do we continue to celebrate Christmas year after year?
Has Christ not already been born? If He has been born, is Christmas then merely a time of goodwill and peace for us, as it is for most non-Christians? Or is Christmas a mere sentimental memorial of the birth of Christ 2000 years ago? If that is so, we are very poor and foolish people, because we are spending far too much time and money for just a commemoration.
But this is the reality. Many of us Christians are celebrating Christmas merely as a sentimental memorial of the birth of Christ, or just an aspiration for peace in our lives. We are not celebrating the reality of His birth – the birth of Jesus in our hearts. Indeed, if we celebrate Christmas again and again, it is not because Christ has not been born but because He is still not born in our hearts. And precisely this season of Advent is to prepare our hearts to receive Him, to allow Him to have a niche in our lives, to let Him be born again in our hearts. It is only when He is born in our hearts, that we will find real and everlasting peace.
This, I believe is the radical difference between the world and us Christians in the celebration of Christmas. For the world, the baby Jesus is only a symbol of their aspiration for peace. But because He is merely a symbol, the effects of peace do not last. Once the presents are given, the parties are over, people fall back to their selfish ways of living that destroy the peace and unity they experienced at Christmas. Such kind of peace is indeed short-lived.
Because, in the first place, the world attempts to find peace by lording over others through the use of power, strength and force. But this is not the real way to peace in our lives. True peace comes about only when Jesus is the Lord of our hearts and our lives. That is to say, to let God live in our hearts. The scripture readings today make it clear that the only place worthy for God to live in is the hearts of men. In Christ, God will at last pitch His tent among men. This is the most important message of the incarnation. That God chose to live in man so that we may find true peace and happiness.
So what does it mean to let God be the Lord of our lives? What does it mean to let Jesus live in our hearts? Today, Mary shows us the way. Mary herself is the temple of the living God. The gospel tells us that she was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit. In other words, God had found in her His dwelling, His Temple. I suppose that is the real reason for Mary’s greatness. If God chose Mary’s womb to be the place where His Son was to be incarnated, it was because Mary herself was already the living temple of God. Indeed as the Church Fathers have always told us, Mary bore Jesus in her heart before bearing Jesus in the flesh.
We might not have the privilege of bearing Jesus in the flesh, but it does not mean that we cannot give birth to Jesus in our hearts. And of the two, which is the greater honour if not to bear Jesus in our hearts. For to bear Jesus physically, is totally a free gift of God. To give birth to Jesus in our hearts demands a greater co-operation from us. We have to cooperate with God’s grace to respond to His invitation.
Yes, the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ implies that God wants us to be His co-partners in the salvation of the world. God wants to save the world but not without us but in and through us. That is why God chose to dwell in and among man. Therefore, today, we must ask ourselves whether we are co-operating with God for the salvation of the world. The gospel tells us that Mary co-operated with God by humbly doing His will, to be the mother of Jesus Christ. Mary, as we know, was that person who said ‘Yes’ and saw it through. She lived up to her commitment. She was a true mother to Jesus.
What about us? If we claim that Jesus is the Lord of our lives, that Jesus lives in us, then how are we living out our vocation in life? Proclaiming Jesus as the Lord of our life does not mean merely proclaiming Him with our lips but more importantly by our very being. It is to make Jesus felt and seen, not so much heard. Consequently, the real proof of whether Jesus is the Lord of our hearts is whether we are proclaiming Jesus in our daily lives, wherever we are, and whoever we are. It means that we be the best student, the best worker, the best son or daughter, the best choir member that we can possibly be. If only each one does his job well, this world would be a better place; if only each one does his duties responsibly, there would not be so much pains and struggles.
When we live up to our vocation responsibly, we then become the true presence of God in our lives. Isn’t this what the incarnation is all about: God living in man? So the most important question is: can people see us as the dwelling place of God? Do they see the love of Jesus in our hearts and in our lives?
Of course, we are not saying that as Christians we do not encounter problems living out our vocation. We do. But like Jesus and Mary, we will find peace even with our problems and struggles. For in the incarnation we know that God is eternally committed to us. We need not fear. That was how Mary could respond to God’s calling to be the mother of His son. Mary put her total trust in God for she knew that God was committed to her life. She knew that being the mother of God would not be easy, but not impossible. As the angel Gabriel said: For God nothing is impossible. We too who journey in faith, are called to respond more generously to God’s calling in our own lives like Mary. By so doing we will find our fulfillment and happiness. And this is what we mean when we say that we allow God to live in our hearts.
And only when others see Jesus incarnated in our lives, will the world then be truly convinced that Jesus is indeed the Prince of Peace and not merely a symbol or a hope. We must dispel the notion that Christmas, which is a time of peace and goodwill, is just a wishful thinking or a temporary affair but a reality. Yes, we proclaim Jesus as our Prince of Peace not with our words but simply with our lives, like Mary. People will believe that Jesus is indeed the Prince of Peace if only they see Jesus as the Lord of our hearts.
As we approach Christmas, we must ask ourselves: Do we let God dwell in our hearts more and more each day? Are we more loving each day? Are we living our lives more fully each day? Are we becoming more human each day? We will be like that only if Jesus lives in us. For in Jesus we see the true man and the true God. Yes, we are at the threshold of Christmas. If Jesus is not becoming more real in us already, then no miracle is going to happen at Christmas. Christmas is meaningful only for those who prepare for it. If not, it will be just another day. And even if we have peace, it will only be for just a few hours.
But for us Christians, Christmas is celebrated only because of the fact that Jesus is the Lord of our lives. That is why Easter, not Christmas, remains the principal feast of the Church. Without the resurrection of Christ, the birth of Jesus would be just like any other birth, and carry not much significance. But because we believe that Jesus is God through His resurrection that His incarnation, that is to say, His dwelling among us becomes important. And concretely, it means that to celebrate Christmas is also to celebrate His resurrection: for in both instances, we want to make Jesus the Lord of our hearts and our lives. We want Jesus to be born in us, more and more each day.