True Gift of Christmas

My Dear friends,

With all my heart I wish to you and your families a most blessed Christmas filled with the joy and peace of Christ.

I’d like to share with you the opening line of a prayer written for this great Feast: “Lord Jesus, as I bow in adoration before your manger, let my first Christmas words be: thank you! Thank you, Gift of the Father, for coming to save me from my sins.” How well these words express the reason for our celebration of Christmas. Christmas for us is not just the hearing of a story that remains in the past, but a story that has personally touched each one of us and become our own. In celebrating the birth of our Savior, we are also celebrating our own new birth through Him, through the forgiveness of our sins.

I remember my first Christmas in 1981; I was 20 years old. The reason I say “first Christmas” is because it was then, for the first time in my life, that I understood what Christmas was really all about. And what made that Christmas different and very special for me had everything to do with that little child of Mary, that baby lying in a manger.

Only a few months before our family Christmas Eve gathering that year, that little Child, who came into the world to save it, to save me, had drawn me to His merciful heart, to cradle Himself personally in my own heart. How many times had Jesus sought a place in my heart, but, like the innkeepers of Bethlehem, I had no room for Him. I had room for everything else . . . but sadly . . . no room for Him.

I was baptized at 10 years old, but not having a faith-filled person to guide me, I became more and more taken up with all the cares and charms of the world, living a life divorced from my own heart—unaware of the gift of God hidden within me. After several years of indifference and estrangement from God, the day of my salvation finally came. All the pain and heartache caused by my selfish lifestyle and poor decisions broke down all the resistance and excuses that kept me from falling into the arms of God. Humbled and broken, I cried out to the Lord, and He heard my cry, flooding my soul with His Loving Presence. I received the gift of Christmas: Jesus Christ! In the joy of this new beginning, I could begin to imagine, at least to some degree, the joy that Mary, Joseph and the shepherds felt on that silent, cool night in Bethlehem.

I was still part of a family that had weathered many hardships, a family still broken and struggling, a family that needed much healing. There was now hope in my heart and an assurance that everything was going to be alright. Not that it would be easy—but that it was going to be alright. For a Savior had indeed been born for us, for me and my family, and this Savior, Jesus Christ, was personally with us.

That Christmas we still exchanged gifts, as we had done in previous years, but I would have been completely content with no gifts at all. My heart was preoccupied and quietly rejoicing with the True Gift of Christmas, which overwhelmed me with deep gratitude.

We sang the same old Christmas carols that night, but it was as though I was hearing them for the first time—they came to life, for they were now telling my own story.

My dear brothers and sisters, the message proclaimed by the Angel is our reason for Joy this night: “Do not be afraid: For today in the city of David a Savior has been born for you, who is Christ the Lord.”

In the Eucharist which we celebrate, our Savior renews His coming and presence among us. Like his presence in the manger, He hides His majestic glory in littleness. He comes so gently and tenderly under the humble appearance of bread and wine, so that we will not be afraid to approach him. Together, let us adore Him, let us thank Him for His saving love. Let us once again ask Him to take up all the space in our hearts and to stay with us, for in Him alone will our hearts find rest and true peace.

Jesus bless you,
Fr. Steven

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