– Fr. Benjamin
Christmas has always been a time of great excitement for me. My parents made church services an important part of the Christmas season, and often my father would read the account of Christmas from the Gospel of Luke. When I was young, however, the excitement focused on the candy and cookies that we would make, and on the gifts I would receive. I looked forward with giddy anticipation of that joyful moment when we would tromp downstairs to open presents. I remember being puzzled by the ending of, “How the Ginch stole Christmas.” Christmas had come without presents?
As I grew older, the gifts lost their luster. Small things I could buy for myself, and the things I really wanted, like a new car, were too big to ask for. Slowly it began to dawn on me that the joy of Christmas was never about the gifts.
The seminary gave me the opportunity to study in Rome, which had a lot of beautiful moments but also some great challenges. I was fortunate that my twin brother, Fr. Joel, was studying with me. In December, facing our first Christmas away from home, we decided to go to Slovakia to visit the land of our great grandfather and hopefully see some snow. We had connections with a family in Slovakia who opened their home to us. Their celebration of Christmas was very subdued compared to what we were used to in the United States. They had a family dinner on Christmas Eve and then exchanged a few small gifts. They included a small gift for each of us, since we didn’t have anything from our family to open. The midnight Mass was celebrated completely in Slovak. I understood very few words but I knew exactly what was happening.
I realized later that the “impossible” had happened. Christmas had come without the candy, the cookies, or the large gifts. Without my mother’s home cooking, without our family home, without our family traditions or any of my family except my brother, outside of my own country, Christmas had still come.
Many people long for the wonder of their childhood Christmas when Santa Claus brought presents and the world seemed wrapped in joy. If the gifts, the feasting, and the family celebration have lost some of their magic, it is only because they never had any magic of their own. They only participated in the magic of Christmas that pours out of the stable of Bethlehem. At Bethlehem the impossible happened: the king became a slave; God became a human baby in Jesus Christ. The wonder of that Holy Night shines in the darkness of innumerable winters and fills countless souls with peace and joy. God is among us! God is poor and helpless! Suddenly the weight of the world is lighter on our shoulders, because the Almighty carries that burden with us.
Christmas was always a time of excitement for me, but I can say with all my heart that Christmas is more exciting and more magical than it was when I was a child. As I have grown, the wonder of what Christmas means has grown with me.
Wishing each of you a Christmas full of wonder.