Thursday, December 25, 2008

The True Meaning of Christmas

A few nights ago the kids and I sat down to watch a Christmas movie - a cartoon adaptation of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol." It was a film that they had never seen, and a story with which they were not familiar.
Before beginning the movie I thought a few words of explanation might be in order, just to lay the groundwork for what was to come. After all, the plot could be kind of confusing to a preschooler, with ghosts and restless spirits, flashbacks, flashforwards, flashsideways,
and themes that might be too complex for someone who has never experienced the harder things in life, the allure of money, providing for a family when times are tough, and the inevitability of death.
And so I began, "This movie is about a man who doesn't understand what Christmas is all about. You see, Christmas is all about giving to others. It's not just about receiving presents...we don't just 'get' things...we're supposed to 'give.' That's what Christmas is all about."
I paused there for a moment. I saw that I had their attention. I received nods of far they got it.
I continued: "Christmas is about 'giving' because God has given so much to us.
Can you think of something God has given us?" I asked.
Joey (our five-year-old) replied, "Life."
"That's right. That's exactly right, and we are happy about that, and we want to give back to others the way God has given to us," I said, excited that he was actually engaged in the conversation. "But what else has He given us? Didn't he also give us Jesus?"
They nodded.
"God is way up here, in heaven." I held one hand far above my head. "And we are way down here, on earth." My other hand reached down toward the floor. "We can never reach up to God on our own. We can never cross this huge gap between us. So instead, God came down to us."
I brought my raised hand down to the lowered hand, as though God were coming down to meet us, and I clasped my hands together.
before I could continue Joey interrupted, "Wait, Dad, let me explain something. You see, Jesus comes down to us and makes His body into bread. Then he gives us a piece of His Body, and we eat it, and He goes inside our body. Then when we die, Jesus can take us back into heaven with Him, because he's inside of us. Jesus gives us His Body to eat."
My lesson ended there.
I thought I was telling my children about the joy of the Incarnation, neatly simplifying the message that Jesus is the real reason for Christmas. But instead my son taught me about the joy of the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the real reason for Christmas. Jesus came down to earth
in the form of a child to bring us salvation; we encounter that child at every Mass and He enters into us as food for our souls. That is the true gift of Christmas, so many centuries ago in Bethlehem (Bethlehem - a word which means "house of bread").
The manger leads to the Cross, and that one sacrifice of the Cross is made present to us at every Mass. The Son of God acquired flesh so that He might one day give us his flesh to eat.
I congratulated Joey on his wonderful insight.
"I'm a pretty good thinker," he replied.
He certainly is.


  1. Tom,
    That was awesome! You are doing so many things right for Joey to have such deep insights at his age.
    That is great that you mention that the word "Bethlehem" means house of bread. I have a wonderful Catholic children's song that states, "Born in Bethlehem, which means house of bread. Laid in a manger where animals are fed. You feed us now with your body and blood. I worship you, oh God of love. My God, I believe, I adore, I hope and I love thee." I am so glad you included that in your post. So many people don't know the meaning of Bethlehem. I didn't until I heard Scott Hahn talk about it and then again in the above mentioned song.
    Keep up the good work with your kids. God bless.

  2. Apparently Joey has also been telling kids at daycare about Jesus and the Eucharist (or at least that's what he has explained to us). He tells us that some of the kids say that it's just bread and not really Jesus. But he has insisted on the Catholic view of the Sacrament. Obviously I don't want him to push too hard with fellow preschoolers, but I have encouraged him to be confident in his faith and know that the Church's teaching is true. I'm so proud of him, to see him working through tough theological issues that many Catholics (sadly) never contemplate until adulthood...if at all. I've told him how proud I am of him and that others, such as you, share my admiration of him.