One holiday season when I was nine, I was put in charge of bringing up the Christmas decorations from under the stairs in the cellar. While doing this chore, found, hidden far under the staircase, an old cast-iron roasting pot. When I lifted the cover, I discovered a stack of ancient, yellowed letters – love letters saved by my mother and father. I hurriedly read a few, carefully put them back in the pan, replaced the lid, and joined the family for dinner. At the table, I asked my mom to pass the potatoes with the words, “Could I have some more, ‘honey pie’”? I then asked my dad for the salt, calling him ‘sweetest darling.’ The next morning, I headed for the roasting pan under the stairs for more research and ammunition, but the pile of love letters had been removed! Clearly, my parents intended those sweet, highly treasured notes to be very personal and private assurances of love, trust, and hope for the future, and they wanted to keep it that way!
How I’d love to dip into those letters today with a wiser heart and to read of a love that gave birth to me! Well, it’s one thing to read someone else’s love letters. It’s quite another to read and take to heart a love letter that was written to you, that is an impassioned declaration of love for you. Isn’t that what this Christmas Gospel is all about, above all else? It’s a love letter, pure and simple, a divine love letter meant for you; especially and particularly for you.
“For me?” you ask. Yes, for you. For me and for you and for each of us. You have it all wrong when you dismiss this story as some ancient narrative that has little to do with you. Listen to it, today, perhaps with a wiser heart than you once had; listen to it as a love letter meant quite personally for you and it will come alive for you. Listen to the words of a divine, insistent Lover who must make things clear to the beloved: ‘You are part of this story, I give my own I give my Son , I give myself for you.’ “You must not be afraid,” God assures us. “To you is born a savior,” God declares. “A child will be a sign for you,” is God’s tender promise. what could be more personal than a love letter such as this? Here is God the impassioned Lover ‘For you I do this, here is my gift for you, it is you I still love, after all.‘
Is this too much to ask, that God could love us so deeply and personally and simply? It is not always easy for us to believe in God. But what is even more difficult for us is to believe in a God who believes in us. Martin Luther once preached on Christmas in these words: “There is such richness and goodness in this [birth] that if we [could only] see and deeply understand, we [would] be dissolved in perpetual joy.”“Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.” (Isaiah 9:6) This is for us the hardest point, not so much to believe that He is the son of the virgin and [of] God himself, as to believe that this Son of God is ours.
He goes on to note that “St. Bernard declared there are three miracles [in this birth]: [first,] that God and man should be joined in this Child; [secondly,] that a mother should [also] remain a virgin; [and, finally,] that Mary should have such faith as to believe that this mystery would be accomplished in her. [The most amazing of all is the last of the three: that Mary believed.] Had she not believed,” all this could not have happened.
This most personal message also carries a universal meaning. This is a love letter meant for everyone; it is “good news of great joy for all the people.” Despite the terrors that plague our world, despite our preference for the way of violence over the way of love, notwithstanding our ruinous love affair with materialism and greed, despite the indifference of our hearts and the selfishness of our lives, God insists that we understand these ancient words as a love letter of great joy, an assurance that no one need be afraid, a promise of peace on earth for all who have a heart to hear.
The meaning of Christmas is that it is a love letter for you and me and for the entire world. Read it with new eyes, hear it in a new way and be changed by this Lover’s promise of comfort, peace, and joy. Don’t keep it hidden under the cellar stairs of your heart.
Edward R. Dufresne © 2012