People in this community will experience Christmas in many different ways. Some will welcome family members from different places to celebrate Christmas in Natchez, some will travel to be with family members and friends out of town, some will spend Christmas alone in their home, approximately 400 individuals will eat Christmas dinner prepared at the Stewpot, and a number of people will serve as volunteers to prepare the Stewpot meal.
Some of the activities of Christmas morning will be the opening of gifts, the excitement of children and grandchildren, telephone calls, texts and emails to and from family members in this country or overseas, the preparation of delicious food in people's homes, reading and reflecting on messages, and sharing memories of Christmases past. I have the happy task of leading two worship services - 8:30 am at Assumption church and 10:00 am at St. Mary Basilica on Christmas day. My observance of Christmas began yesterday, on Christmas Eve, with worship services (Masses) at 4:00 and 9:00 pm at St. Mary and 6:00 pm at Assumption.
No matter how or where we celebrate Christmas, our minds and hearts are drawn to the town of Bethlehem where God's own son was born as a human being two thousand years ago. The sacred scriptures tell not only of his coming but also of the events that led to his coming and the consequences of his coming.
In brief, we learn the important facts. From all eternity it was the mind of God to create humankind to share his life and eternity with Him. The book of Genesis tells the story of the creation of the world and of humankind. When humankind turned from God, God promised a savior, and He chose one group of people, the descendants of Abraham, as his chosen people. But this often lost their way and walked in darkness, but God sent prophets (Hebrews 1:1-3) to encourage them and to remind them of his promise.
Finally, God sent his own son as a human being to bring light and to give us the signposts to lead humankind closer to him. The word became flesh (human) and made his dwelling among us as a human being; and we saw his goodness (as a human being) and his glory as the son of God (John 1:1-5, 9-11). The place and circumstances of his birth are told to us by Luke (2:1-14).
There are two words that are heard in church services during the seasons of Advent and Christmas -Incarnation and Emmanuel. Incarnation (also found in the Nicene creed) means God's son entered our world as a human being; he did not enter as an angel or a purely divine person. He felt the cold, the hunger, sadness at the death of Lazarus (his friend), tiredness, disappointment, fear of danger, loneliness and human temptations. All Old Testament names had a meaning, and the name Emmanuel meant God-among-us or God-with-us. The angel Gabriel informed Mary when she was asked to be the mother of the Savior that he was to be called by that name.
So, among the many meanings and traditions of Christmas the profound truth is that Jesus' birth gave a new dignity to being human. Until that point in human history, God sent angels as messengers to our world; and through the ages, God spoke through his prophets (Hebrews 1:1-6). Now God is sending his own son as one of us, a human being. God's own son has come among us in human not angelic form. He will understand our human condition and can relate to us. He will understand our brokenness, our fears and our insecurities. What we learn from this is that being human must be very good because god's son appears in human form. So for us the challenge is to be able to appreciate and embrace the gift of our humanness. Spirituality for us includes our humanness.
The life and teachings of Jesus have taught us what it means to be a good human being. At a pivotal moment in our lives for us Roman Catholics, it is baptism; we become the adopted sons and daughters of God and also the adopted brothers and sisters of Jesus. We promise to try to be like Jesus and therefore to live as a good human being.
One striking lesson for me from Jesus is his love and compassion for every human being - the leper, the public sinner, the blind, the lame, the possessed with evil spirits, the stranger and foreigner, and the people living in the margins. He was willing to care for and love other people (also a requirement for us his followers) even to the point of giving his life. He is often referred to as a 'man for others.' Another clear message in his life is keeping God the Father central and his obedience to the will of the Father, and his setting aside time to listen to the Father.
Our culture and our world needs his witness to help us appreciate the dignity of every human being. The lack of that appreciation is evident in violence in our world, the inhumanity of us human beings, sometimes the lack of appreciate for our own gift of life and health.
I am encouraged by many signs that the lessons of Jesus about the goodness of human nature and humans are evident in our society. I appreciate the generous outpouring of charity and good will in this community in recent weeks and throughout the year. This is a good time for you, the reader, to think about the good deeds you do and the people you care for outside the family. Also, think about the efforts you make to value your life and to stay physically healthy, and the efforts you make to keep balance and grace in your life. I think you also learn from Jesus when you try to learn about God and pray to him with some frequency.
I want to apply the message about the dignity of humanness to those in school and college. Every effort you make to discover and develop the special gifts God has given you is an acknowledgment of the life of God and his work in you. In doing this, you can better serve fellow humans and our world and also become more fulfilled individuals. The more aware we become of our gift of humanness the more likely we are to see the presence of Jesus in others.
Jesus continues to be present in human form among us. Look for him in the broken lives of people around us, in the hardships of the poor and needy, in the fears of the sick and elderly, in the frustrations of the young, and in his church and in people of faith who do his work. Strive to model your life on that of Jesus, and try to live and love as he did.
My wish during this Christmas season is that each of us rediscover the dignity of our humanness and that we strive to become the best that we can possibly. My prayer is that peace and joy will fill our hearts and homes at this time.