This year’s Christmas messages all seem to come with the wish “merry. “ Some greetings might even say “Merry Xmas.” I must admit that worries me somewhat. What is the meaning of merry? Google defines it as cheerful, festive, joyous, frolicking, and does Xmas exclude Jesus who is truly the “reason for the season.” In fact the “merry” images on google are about Santa, gifts and cute cuddlies.
In doing my DAILY THOUGHTS for January I studied what Pope Francis in Laudato Si said about Jesus. No ascetic, apart from the world. He himself is believed to have said, “The Son of Man came eating and drinking and they say, “Look a glutton and a drunkard!.” In other words, he could have been quite merry at times, so maybe I am misjudging his personality.
St Francis, who was my focus for the MARFAM Advent and Christmas reflection booklet, Love came down at Christmastime, had an extremely close relationship with Jesus. While reflecting on his suffering, physical weakness and a painful eye condition and almost on his death-bed he requested a gift from Jesus, to identify closely with him. Jesus told him that his suffering was the treasure. This is reported to have filled Francis with ecstatic joy, but maybe not quite merriness.
A story I wrote some years ago, “Jesus’ Birthday” has touches of nostalgia, sadness, and joy but also some merriment. for us all us that not the story of life today?
I bet you’ve never stopped to think about it but every year Jesus used to celebrate his birthday. When? On 25th December of course! When he was tiny his mother, Mary, used to organise the party and invite his cousins and the neighbourhood children and Joseph would take time off from his carpentry shop and play games with them; boys and girls enjoyed the contraptions he made they could climb on and over and under and of course everyone enjoyed the food and drinks Mary prepared. As he grew older Jesus chose his own friends and the activities they enjoyed. Once they went hiking and mountain climbing and loved sleeping out under the stars. They all agreed it made them feel really close to God. As it was also cold at that time of the year and sometimes they would sit around a campfire, singing songs, telling stories and jokes – yes Jesus loved jokes, but not dirty ones.
Jesus didn’t have favourites and somehow there weren’t ever any fights at his parties. There was always a happy-go-lucky atmosphere and lots of laughs. But Jesus was also a serious child and a good student at the synagogue school. The year he turned 12 Mary and Joseph noticed this particularly. “What do you want to do for your birthday this year?” Mary asked. “I know we don’t have too much money to spare and it is nearly time for my bar-mitzvah in Jerusalem, so why don’t we just have a few people around for supper this time,” he suggested. And that is what they did. Even the older cousins agreed that there was something different and exciting about the way he could tell the well-known stories from the Scriptures. He used to make them laugh when he acted out the stories of the giant Goliath and little David and of Samson with the long hair.
As he grew into a teenager and then a young man he always made something special of his birthday, because as he said, “Life is a gift from God, something to be thankful for and valued.” When he started his public ministry he would spend most of the year, especially the summer months travelling around the country preaching and healing people. But in December (at Christmastime of course, except that it wasn’t called Christmas then, was it?) he would go home to his mother. Joseph had already died and Mary and Jesus would spend some time relaxing in Nazareth. It sees that the people in Nazareth didn’t really believe in him but the children all loved him and so on his birthday many of them came to the house where Mary gave them cookies and juice and Jesus would sit them down and tell them their favourite story.
“Once upon a time,” he would begin, “a long, long time ago, there was only God. God wasn’t exactly lonely, because God was a little community of love, but because God was so loving he wanted to share that love. Because God was all-powerful he could create things. God loved creating and created a whole universe that could grow and develop from almost nothing into the most complicated things, big and small. Just look at the clouds, at the eye of this little fish or the inside of this flower.” And they would ooh and aah in wonder. “What God loved creating most of all was people, and you know why? Because they could love God back. Animals and plants and rocks can’t love like people can. But God gave people free will so that they could choose and were free to love or not. It hurt God badly when people didn’t love him or each other but that was the way they had to be made. God tried for many years to teach the people more about love. Sometime they got it right and at other times they seemed to forget.
I know that God is like a father. Not everyone has a father but everyone can imagine what a really good father is like. He is strong and protects and cares for you. You could say God is like a mother too, someone who is soft and kind and loving. We all need that kind of love to be well and happy, so it helps to know that, even without a father or mother God is there loving you. I want to tell you that whatever happens in the future, to you or to me, remember that God is in charge. God loves everything he has made, people who do good and even people who do bad things. God keeps the whole world going and growing. Bad things do happen but God does not make them happen. And if they do happen to you God will be there to help you. I really believe that.”
And the children would notice that a shadow would cross Jesus’ face and little Joachim would come up and put his arms around Jesus’ neck and whisper in his ear, “Smile Jesus, remember it’s your birthday today.
Then Jesus would jump up with a big roar and throw the little ones in the air, and they would run and collect all their musical instruments and dance around the village pump, singing a psalm of praise, like this:
“I will sing forever of your love, O Lord. Sing a new song to the Lord, for he has worked wonders, his right hand and his holy arm have brought salvation. All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God, shout to the Lord all the earth, ring out your joy.
Sing psalms to the Lord with the harp with the sound of music. With trumpets and the sound of the horn acclaim the King, the Lord.
And the women and men of the village would smile too and some of them would bring their instruments and some would join in the dance. And God would send his angels and their air would be filled with the sound of joy, Christmas joy.
Compliments of the Season says it all. Blessings to you and yours at this special time and throughout 2023. And may your days to come be merry and bright, filled with love and plenty of light. TR FAMILY WEEKLY e-newsletter 28 December 2022