As the Christmas feast day quickly approaches, much of mainstream America is immersed in consumerism, parties, or festive events that have little or nothing to do with the religious holy day named Christmas. Many religions focus this holiday on the "birth of Jesus." However, one look at the meaning of Christ's name(s) as given to us in Holy Scripture and what is revealed is a different focus altogether.
"The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel," which means God with us. (Matthew 1:23).
In the first chapter of Luke, the angel Gabriel announces to Mary, "Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus" (Luke 1:30-31). Jesus, in Hebrew, means God saves.
God entered the world as a small and vulnerable baby in order to lead all of humanity to salvation.
God is with us; he is here to save us. What is our response to this Christmas message? Do we continue in the same numbed and frantic way of carrying out traditions, making plans, and achieving goals? Or, do we stop and listen to God calling us to himself? If he is here to save us how do we meet him and present ourselves for salvation?
In Luke's third chapter, we read of the crowd assembled to hear John the Baptist's preaching - they are asking John, "What should we do then?
John answered, 'Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.
Even tax collectors came to be baptized. 'Teacher,' they asked, 'what should we do?'
'Don't collect anymore than you are required to,' he told them.
Then some soldiers asked him, ' And what should we do?' He replied, 'Don't extort money and don't accuse people falsely - be content with your pay.'
The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. John answered them all, 'I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.' And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them" (Luke 3: 10-18).
Two thousand years later we continue to ask, what should we do?
In a recent interview, Pope Francis reiterated the Christmas message, "'It is the encounter with Jesus.' Christmas is an encounter between God and his people. And it is also a consolation, 'a mystery of consolation.'
'Christmas, the pope said, 'speaks to us about tenderness and hope.' It is an invitation to all Christians to not become 'a cold church, that doesn't know where it's going, that is tied up in ideologies, in worldly attitudes.' Pope Francis responds to the critics and to the stereotypes of those who would trivialize the celebration of Christmas with a few persuasive words: 'When one doesn't have the capacity, or there is a human situation that doesn't permit you to understand this joy, you live the feast with a worldly cheer. But between the profound joy and the mundane cheerfulness there is a difference.'"
That difference is an encounter with God. This Christmas season - encounter God.