These are not what you are thinking. If one were to do a quick survey of what the greatest temptations of Christmas are, the laundry list that would ensue will include temptations to indulge in passions – excess food, booze and sex. In short, it is the temptation to indulge and excessively too.
By the way, many will confess to the fact that it was and it is paradoxically during this Christmas season, that while we celebrate Mary’s virginity that many lost and lose their virginity.
The temptations of sex, food and wine are fairly obvious. Without minimizing them, it is fitting to focus on some other more subtle but pernicious forms.
Taking Christmas for granted: Christmas is an annual event. In the Catholic tradition, Christmas is a season celebrated from the birth of Christ December 25th to the Baptism of Our Lord, which this year, falls on January 13. The danger with an annual event like this is the temptation either to see it as just part of an annual rhythm lacking in anything substantively new and ground breaking or look forward to with much excitement – evanescent albeit. For most adults, we have become so used to it and like they say, “familiarity truly breeds contempt. “
Christ, who was present at the creation of the world comes to re-create us. Like Pope Benedict XVI says, “…our true ‘genealogy’ is faith in Jesus, who gives us a new origin, who brings to birth ‘from God.’” It is an opportunity to renewal.
Christmas is not just the mechanical return of the seasons; rather, it is a return to the source, which is ever fresh, ever new. The temptation to view Christmas as just a part of the regular cycle receives fuel from yet another temptation to see Christmas as a mere children’s affair.
The second temptation is viewing Christmas as just a children’s affair: The image and symbol of a child that characterizes Christmas has the unintended consequence of reducing it to seem as a feast for children.
While growing up, Christmas was a cherished celebration. Christmas gave us the opportunity to have new clothes. Then the special meal: Remember the Christmas rice? Even more so, Christmas provided the luxury of having a variety of dishes. There was rice and then chicken at the least. After the family meal, as kids we will visit other families in the neighborhood for more food, more drinks and gifts. A fun part of the day was “Calabar juju” where we masqueraded and danced around to the song: O kokoriko Oya, Okokoriko Oya, Juju don come oya, massa charge your pocket…” for some pennies and goodies.
As one grew older, it became a sign of maturity not to revel in the pleasantries of Christmas. Christmas lost its childlike pomp and opened new vistas. Like a nursing mother so eager to wean her baby from breast milk so too it would seem, age weaned us away from Christmas. When it became time to provide or better still take care of one ‘s self and later for others, the temptation to cast Christmas off into the class of childish excitements is even greater.
Properly understood, Christmas is a children’s feast. It is as a child that God took human form. And in the Gospels, Christ invites us: Let the little children come to me for to such as these belongs the Kingdom of Heaven. Christmas invites us to childlikeness. Children embody the spirit of Christmas – Joy, peace, humility, gratitude and gift.
Weigel expresses the point even better when he writes: “‘The return to the nursery’ at Christmas is not infantile. ‘The return to the nursery’ is to re-experience the wonder of God in his search for us in history.”
May we not lose sight of the fact that at the birth of Christ, heaven and earth and all therein came together. We have human beings: Joseph, Mary and the shepherds; then we have the animals, the shepherds were tending. Then there is the star that led the wise men from the East representing the celestial skies; Angels from the spiritual realm also showed up.
Christmas is a feast for humanity. It is an angelic feast. It is an agrarian festival. It is also spiritual. Christmas is essentially a family celebration. Given that the first Sunday after Christmas is Holy Family Sunday, we shall leave our reflection on Christmas as the family feast on that Sunday.
On January 1st, the Church celebrates the motherhood of God hence giving us the opportunity to reflect on what it means to be a mother. Let us then get the men on stage.
But more than just being a children’s festival Christmas is so eminently a celebration of fatherhood, in fact of manhood. The infancy narratives, which contain the highest number of references to Joseph, paint the portrait of true fatherhood as incarnated by Joseph. One of such instances where this rings out is in the gospel passage where we read: Joseph did not want to put her to shame (Mt 1:19). Joseph wanted to quietly call off his engagement to Mary and spare her the trauma of public disgrace. In the marriage dynamic, the husband is both provider and protector. Here, Joseph stands out as the protector.
Joseph’s decision to protect Mary’s good name by sparing her from public embarrassment and even further to accept the child are classical acts of manliness and fatherhood. Christmas reminds fathers to be protectors of their wives and children. Christmas invites fathers to spare their families public disgrace. For example, when a husband cheats on his wife, this debases his wife and makes her vulnerable to the wiles of the one with whom he is cheating.
Or the inability for the man to honor his word and repay his friends who came to his aid and lent him some money, makes not only him but his entire household “cheap” and vulnerable. Christ is born in Joseph’s heart first before in Joseph’s home.
The third temptation is removing Christ from Christmas: In a certain sense, Christmas is a birthday anniversary. At Christmas, we celebrate the anniversary of the birth of Christ. Christ invites us to his birthday anniversary every year at Christmas. Unlike the biblical story of the man who threw a party and invited guests who made excuses and never showed up, the temptation here is that with Christ’s invitation those who show up try to throw him out of his own party. We catch a glimpse of this in the expression “crying more than the bereaved.” Have we not thrown out the host who invited us to his birthday?
The Gospels talk of “the lack of a room at the inn” causing Christ to be born in a manger. In his homily at this year’s Christmas vigil mass, Pope Benedict meditating on this passage, notes: Do we really have a room for God when he seeks to enter our roof? Do we have time and space for him?
Pushing this further, in the context of the birthday anniversary, one can ask: Have we not actually turned God away? We are so “full” of ourselves that there is no room left for God. We have come in and pushed him out or rather struggle to shut out the birthday boy. The next time you say Happy holiday instead of Merry Christmas you might just have fallen into the temptation.