What is the point of Christmas for a child? Presents, of course. Every children likes toys for their own sake and as a sign of their parents' love. They like all presents, but especially gifts from their parents and other loved ones.
Perhaps slightly more mature people think that the gifts and rich food are not so important in themselves, what's more important is the sharing of good things among friends at Christmastime. Others think even more profoundly that it is good to have a time to celebrate peace, joy and brotherhood in a world of pain and conflict.
But is that all? Does Christmas mean nothing more that a short season to share gifts and food with family and friends, and for the nations of the world to briefly forget their differences?
Christmas certainly means more than that. Today's text does not refer specifically to the birth of Jesus Christ, but the Incarnation that began with His birth.
"Because the grace of God that brings salvation has been made manifest to all men..." means nothing less than the Word made flesh in Christ Jesus, all of His holy life, His suffering and death on the cross and His glorious resurrection. This is the source of joy, peace and good will for those who believe in Christ. This is the celebration of Christmas at the deepest level.
From the beginning, the message was for all nations. As the angels sang in today's Gospel (Lucas 2:1-14), "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace and good will toward men." And as St. Paul wrote to Titus, the grace of God has been made manifest to all men.
To what purpose? "Training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ..." That is to say, to live with hope in this present age.
Is there a difference in the behavior of a prisoner who has the hope of liberty and a reunion with family members and one who has no such hope? Sure there is. In the first case, the prisoner wants to complete his sentence without complications, so he obeys the rules of the prison authorities and always works to improve his situation. If he has no hope of liberty, the prisoner will rebel and break all the rules, or will despair, doing nothing more than is absolutely required of him.
If a student can look forward to a break from his studies, it is easy to study and work toward good grades. If there is no hope of vacation, it is easy to lose interest in his studies. Likewise if there is the expectation of a bright future after graduation.
As Christians, we have a hope that surpasses anything in this world. We hope for an eternal vacation with Christ, so it is easier for us to fulfill our duties in this world and, above all, to show God's love to those around us.
That is why St. Paul said to Titus, let us live soberly, justly and piously in this present age. Jesus Christ has redeemed us for this purpose, to become people zealous for good works.
This hope is our gift, not just for a season of several weeks per year, but for all year long, year after year, forever. This is the best Christmas gift. Amen.
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