Now that we have entered into November, the first signs that we are entering into the Christmas season are popping up. Advertisers are trying to get us to shop early and often. They entice us with sales and our children with the latest and greatest version of whatever toy or video game is supposed to be in high demand. Christmas itself quickly gets lost in the rush to buy the best presents and the desire to receive the same.
It also seems that every year we get a parade of movies about “saving Christmas.” Whether it is Dora saving Christmas for Swiper by getting him off the naughty list or a bunch of ghosts getting Scrooge to look at life differently, these stories often focus on human action. At worst, it is about rescuing Santa so that he can deliver the presents on time and at best, it is about how we can make the world a better place by remembering the “real meaning of Christmas” — giving, loving, and caring.
These attempts to rescue Christmas from the greed and gluttony that creeps through our culture in the months prior to December 25 always seem to fall short. My own memories of Christmas as a child are almost universally bleak. Disappointment that I either didn’t get what I wanted or what I got paled in comparison to my own imagination and the annual Christmas family fights are memories that come to the fore. This, frankly, is the natural outcome of Christmas driven by our own desires — whether we are driven by greed or by a need to save Christmas from itself.
In his Sermon XXII on the Nativity, St. Leo the Great tells us the real meaning of Christmas:
As the year rolls round, there recurs for us the commemoration of our salvation.
Christmas doesn’t need to be saved. Christmas saves us.
I first met St. Leo when I was in seminary. I was tasked with a writing about the services surrounding the Nativity of Christ. St. Leo was the first Church Father I found that had left us with his thoughts on the Nativity. I soon found that his words were profound. The Church agrees:
O all blessed priest, you have become an addition to the right-believing hierarchs and martyrs; for in contests you stood as a lofty tower and defense of piety, unbending and unbroken, invincible, while in all clarity dogmatizing soundly and aright on the Lord’s Birth, which is inexpressible. — Vespers Stichera for St. Leo the Great
In the coming days and weeks, I want to have a dialogue with St. Leo and explore the clarity with which he expresses the inexpressible birth of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ. I hope you come for the ride with me, to that place where Christmas doesn’t need to be saved because it saves us. Amen.