We are “Christmas people”. This is not our club or association, it is our identity. This is our Truth. This is our Hope. There are no realistic, alternative choices for us. This is our true citizenship. We are children of God. That is who we are because of our Baptism.
We hear a great deal about Christian martyrs. A Christian martyr is someone who suffers and dies unjustly, simply because they believe in Jesus Christ and will not renounce Jesus, or accept to worship any other God, even in the face of death. Worldly death for a Christian is preferred to eternal death. This is the witness of Christmas people.
Believing in Christmas, we believe that Jesus was God and human, born of Mary, conceived of the Holy Spirit in Mary. Mary bore her creator. Our eternal life comes only from Jesus, through the body of his mother, Mary. Eternal life is born in us through our Baptism, when we become like Mary, without sin, free from the chains of death.
When Mary agreed to receive the Holy Spirit and become pregnant, she freely chose to accept a death sentence. In Israel, that was the fate of a woman found pregnant outside of marriage. That would dishonor her and her family. She knew that when she told the Angel Gabriel,
“How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”
Mary was innocent. When Joseph found out she was pregnant, he chose to marry her as previously planned, but later, quietly divorce her, rather than permit her to be stoned to death by their neighbors in Nazareth. The Angel convinced Joseph that the child was from God, and for him to go ahead and take Mary as his wife, as planned.
Mary’s pregnancy changed two lives forever, that of Mary and Joseph. They would live as brother and sister under death threats from then until the end of their earthly lives. They just barely escaped Herod’s soldiers when the soldiers killed every child under two years old in and around Bethlehem. They escaped to Egypt, and remained there for some time with their child.
When we were baptized and we accepted to be Christians, we accepted the same risks and the same fate. It is our destiny as Christians to live eternally with Christ. This is our truth. We are Christmas people.
Mary needed protection from the world and the Law, and she had several protectors in her lifetime on earth, including Joseph, Zechariah and Elizabeth, and the Apostle John after Jesus’ Crucifixion.
As a very young, first-time mother, God first placed Mary in the hands of Elizabeth, as instructed by the Angel Gabriel. Perhaps Elizabeth, Mary’s older cousin, was the only person who could help her in the beginning of her pregnancy. Like Mary, Elizabeth’s impossible pregnancy was foretold by an angel. Elizabeth and Zechariah lived a safe distance away from Nazareth, about 80 miles, near Jerusalem. Elizabeth was childless, and well beyond child bearing age. She was already six months pregnant with John when the Archangel appeared to Mary. And, Elizabeth received blessings from God.
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”
As a much older woman and childless, Elizabeth had the wonderful help of the younger mother, Mary, to care for her in her last trimester of pregnancy. Mary would care for Elizabeth until the birth of John. Then, six months pregnant herself, Mary returned to Nazareth and the protection of Joseph, her lawful husband.
However, within three more months she would find herself, with Joseph, traveling again, this time to Bethlehem for the birth of her son, Jesus. Mary traveled a great deal while she was pregnant with Jesus, and even more, later in her life.
Wherever Jesus was, Mary was there and vice versa. Mary was with Jesus in Nazareth, Bethlehem, Egypt, Capernaum, Cana and Jerusalem, and on the road. They became traveling companions even to the end of her earthly life and assumption into heaven.
As “Christmas People”, we commit to spend our entire lives with Jesus, all the way to heaven. If we deny him or leave His Church, we deny that journey with him. If we accept him and live with him, we will arrive with him, in heaven, also. This is our destiny and our identity.
If you or I deny Jesus, or leave the Church he founded, we depart from him, we leave the journey. When we regularly live our sacramental life with Jesus in the Church, we remain with Him. As Pope Francis has said, “It is an absurd dichotomy to think of living with Jesus, but without the Church, of following Jesus outside the Church, of loving Jesus without loving the Church.” Mary nurtured the early Church, sharing her life stories with the disciples of Jesus. That is the only way we could possibly know Jesus’ nativity stories. By nurturing the early Church, Mary honored her son.
Christmas is not a personal, private experience. We are “Christmas People” because we celebrate the birth of Jesus together, as a Christian community. Together, we adore him. Together we make him present to the world. Christmas is not a material experience of the world. Christmas is our collective receiving of the child of God into our lives so that we may be received into His eternal life. We open our hearts to him and to our neighbors because we are “Christmas People”. We witness to our faith in Jesus with our very lives, because we are “Christmas People.” Merry Christmas, people!