As the song goes, which seems to have been getting more airplay this year (or perhaps it just feels that way) we need  a little Christmas.  In fact, people have been waiting, looking and longing for Christmas since before Easter of this year.  If you need evidence; back in March, right as the craziness of stay at home orders began – Hallmark Channel decided to air a marathon of their Christmas movies. No I’m not a fan who joined the millions of stuck at home viewers who were tuning in (not that there’s anything wrong with that) Especially in 2020 – if that helped you get through, God Bless. But it was an interesting phenomenon. They not only aired marathons in March, these films were offered on their “on-demand” streams throughout the year, then in the summer they had “Christmas in July” binges and then they started their non-stop “Countdown to Christmas” even earlier in October then they have in previous years.  Television executives only do such things if they’re successful, which Hallmark was:  at a time where television ratings across the board have dropped, and people have been “cutting the cord” and so forth – Hallmark Channel’s ratings went up 7% this year.     What can explain this phenomenon? These films don’t seem to be breaking new ground in the entertainment industry.  In fact, the Washington Post ran a Hallmark Christmas Movie mad lib – which allows you to, as they explain: fill in the blanks and you can make your very own cheesy holiday travel movie. Which was kind of funny.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!  Thanks so much for stopping by to read this, my homily for THE NATIVITY OF THE LORD (Christmas Day) December 25, 2020. and even more for sharing it on your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and everywhere else people share social media posts and your feedback and comments! For the audio version you can get them at SOUNDCLOUD click HERE or from ITUNES as a podcast HERE. Thanks again… I hope you and yours experience all of God’s blessings today and always! In Christ – Father Jim

One commentator though explained it a bit more thoughtfully.  She explained that especially in 2020, as the year wore on, and people, felt distressed by the worsening pandemic and the tumultuous presidential election they turned to these movies that contain uplifting messages about honoring family, friends, community.  This writer concluded that “Screen writers have long understood that people crave from entertainment the emotions they aren’t getting from the real world.”

Which in the bizarre year that 2020 has been, brought about another thing I didn’t see coming:  A point of agreement between this Catholic Priest, Hallmark Channel and The Washington Post… Which is: there’s a desperate need and desire for Christmas.   Yes, the entertainment industry and marketing professionals know how to tap into that for their own purposes.

But, even before that, prior to the March Marathon of Christmas movies, people spontaneously started putting Christmas lights back on their homes, even putting their trees back up.  What is it about these things that is so comforting?

Pope Benedict XVI some years ago was able to hit the nail on the head with a reflection that has remained with me and helped recapture the joy of some of the excesses that sometimes are seen this time of year. He said, Let us remember in particular, as we look at the streets and squares of the cities decorated with dazzling lights, that these lights refer us to another light, invisible to the eyes but not to the heart. While we admire them, while we light the candles in churches or the illuminations of the crib and the Christmas tree in our homes, may our souls be open to the true spiritual light brought to all people of good will. The God-with-us, born in Bethlehem of the Virgin Mary, is the Star of our lives!

That’s why our being here, why what we do here is so, to put it in another way we never did before 2020 – so essential.   Because as much as many people have strayed from Christianity, and the world seems to have lost a sense of the “true meaning of Christmas” – there’s something beautiful about the truth of this holy day. A truth that goes deeper than sappy, predictable storylines, cliche characters in snowy, mistletoe settings.  Something more than just family, friends, community – looking for something uplifting.  Because if that were all it was about, “Thanksgiving” would seem the perfect, non-religious holiday to market.

That people are drawn to Christmas with an almost universal appeal is because at the heart of all those externals, those specials, those decorations speak to that universal craving that we seek from the world but are never fulfilled and satisfied in them.  They reflect that restlessness in our hearts that can only be filled by our Creator

Our Creator, He speaks to us in these His words from scripture anew… As St. Luke beautifully retells this true story of the birth of Jesus Christ, he reminds us that this good news was first transmitted to shepherds, poor, hard working, struggling people who also had to contend with the weariness of this world.  It was to them that the angel appears and invites them to let go of their fear and behold the Christ Child.  This Child, whom Isaiah had prophesied would bring His radiant light, causing great rejoicing at the revelation- that the burdens of this world have been removed –  that the grip of sin on humanity has been smashed by this child born, son given who is Wonder counselor, God Hero, Father Forever, Prince of Peace. St. Paul rejoices telling us the Grace of God has appeared and saved us all.

No doubt we still face some tumultuous times ahead.  Our celebrations today are somewhat muted because of fears, anxieties, worries whether on a global scale or just growing from our own experiences in our homes, families and challenges we face that don’t make headline news.  Yet this good news of the birth of Jesus Christ who enters into all of it – into our messy world is proclaimed anew this day. The light still flickers even in the darkest days. The joy, the peace, the answers we seek that time and time again are betrayed in countless ways by those in “the real world” – the good news is that they are found in Him who is able to unite heaven and earth.

One practical challenge:   leave your Christmas lights and displays up until February 2nd. Which no isn’t Groundhog Day. That’s 40 days from now, which we celebrate the day when Mary and Joseph presented Jesus in the temple and they were amazed to be greeted by this holy man named Simeon who rejoiced at Jesus’ very presence there recognizing in Him the light of salvation to the entire world. As we leave those lights on, especially as many begin unplugging them tomorrow, it will be our small way of testifying to this weary world the cause of our ongoing rejoicing that  light, invisible to the eyes but not to the heart…the light brought to all people of good will. The God-with-us, born in Bethlehem of the Virgin Mary, is the Star of our lives.  Merry Christmas!