By DEACON JAMES GAUDIN, Commentary | Published December 23, 2010
Those of us who are older can recall memories of Christmases past where there was less business, less noise, less complexity. Nostalgically, we long in vain for a return of that kind of Christmas.
I can recall wonderful, peaceful memories of Christmas at home in Alabama with family and close friends, and at church. Memories come to mind of shopping for Christmas trees with my sister and her boyfriend on a cold and windy December night in Alabama … of homemade fruitcake and eggnog after midnight Mass.
I recall the special Christmas of 1954 when St. Mary’s Seminary in Kentucky was blanketed with a foot of snow, yet the rented Greyhound bus faithfully showed up in the early morning December darkness to the great relief and joy of a large group of seminarians. While it ferried us to Louisville to connect with trains and buses to homes all over the United States, we quietly sang Christmas carols all the way to Louisville.
Then there was the December of 1960 when a group of us “Southern seminarians” rented a car to drive home for Christmas to Alabama from St. Mary’s in Baltimore. When we reached Christianburg, Va., that evening it was white with snow. It made driving interesting. We got lost after delivering one of our group to his home in Norris, Tenn., ending up at 2 a.m. on a dark back road near Oak Ridge. We were stopped by federal police, who were very interested in where we were coming from and where we were going. Thank God they believed us, and we got back on our way and arrived home safely.
I also remember fondly the Christmas of 1964 at Catholic University in Washington, where my then-pregnant wife and I attended midnight Mass at the magnificent National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception to hear Bishop Fulton Sheen deliver the homily with the eloquent, dramatic touch that was his gift.
And here in Georgia, I have wonderful memories of Christmases in Decatur, with my two young children filled with anticipation, wonder and joy at the festively decorated Christmas tree and the new bicycles, trucks, or toys that Santa had brought them. Years pass, and my wife and I have shared the joy of Christmas with our children, daughter-in-law and two wonderful grandchildren. They have given us the delightful gift of sharing again the joy and wonder of Christmas that only small children can generate in a family.
For all of us Christians, Christmas is an eloquent sermon in humility, simplicity and overflowing love. It takes eyes of faith to see the eternal, omnipotent Son of God in the infant son of Mary in the manger. How can this helpless infant, totally dependent on his parents’ care be, at the same time, the all-powerful God?
Jesus bids us, “Learn of me, for I am meek and humble of heart.” The manger scene speaks volumes to me about the humility of our saving God.
It is the shepherds—the uneducated, unskilled workers of the day—to whom the angels of God appear and reveal the birth as the fulfillment of the long-promised time of peace and goodwill to all. They have the simplicity, the faith to come and kneel before this ordinary infant child, accepting and believing the message of the angels about the peaceful implications of this apparently ordinary birth to a young peasant couple. They offer us an example of simple faith in God’s messages to us, delivered to us in quiet times, opened with difficulty in our busy lives, but most often delivered by our brothers and sisters, our friends, husbands, wives, children, colleagues or superiors.
We can hear God’s messages only if we take time to listen with patience and humility.
Christmas reminds us all that we must become as little children to enter into this mystery of faith. Little children have no difficulty seeing the image of God in this infant in a manger. God is simply love. The infant in the manger is simply God, clothed in human flesh.
The scene at the manger in Bethlehem challenges each one of us to imitate God’s love and simplicity, his humility. The promised peace on earth and goodwill toward all will happen only when I learn to humble myself like the Divine Infant of Bethlehem and imitate His unselfish loving in response to the needs of my brothers and sisters. This is the only gift he desires from each of us.
Deacon James Gaudin has served at St. Joseph Church, Athens, for the past 25 years. He is a retired professor from the University of Georgia, where he taught, conducted research, and developed community social service programs for 21 years.