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Happy Holidays vs. Merry Christmas

By Bishop of Honolulu Bishop Larry Silva

Christmas Message 2007

There is so much controversy these days about this simple greeting, because it seems to make Christmas little more than a secular holiday. Few would deny the holiday’s historical roots in Christianity, but there is a prevailing attitude that the holiday has “matured” into a day for believer and non-believer alike. Christ is no longer the center of the observance for many.

While it would be easy for us to rail against this contemporary bow to secularism, we might also be challenged to scrutinize our own attitudes about our faith and ask if we ourselves have not planted the seeds of the separation of Christ from Christmas. Is our faith in Jesus simply belief in a historical person who lived an exemplary life, who died a sacrificial death, and who left us a legacy of teachings to guide us in life’s journey? Or do we also truly believe that Christ IS risen, that he is alive now, and that, even though he has ascended into heaven, he comes physically to earth as the living bread come down from heaven in the Eucharist? Do we go to the Eucharist simply out of obligation or tradition, or do we go to encounter the Lord of our lives? Do we view the Eucharist only as a series of rituals, or as an encounter with a living person whose love can transform us? Do we truly believe that the little Babe laid in a feeding box in Bethlehem, whose birth stirs up so much joy in us, is the same Jesus who is laid on the altar to feed his sheep today? Can we be filled with the wonder and awe of those down-to-earth shepherds who witnessed heaven singing to celebrate the joy of God-become-man? When we go to Mass do we find the experience dull or dreary unless the choir or the homilist brightens it up for us, or do we go with stars in our own eyes, stars that guide us to adore the King of heaven and earth? When we leave after having received the Eucharist, do we grasp the incredible wonder that the same Jesus who was carried in the womb of the Virgin until she brought him forth to the world is carried in us so that we can bring him forth in today’s world?

Yes, we should prefer “Merry Christmas” to “Happy Holidays” because it is more expressive of the truth we are celebrating. But “Merry Christmas” will only regain its meaning if we live the reality and not just the words. “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” The same Word takes flesh in us today, so that he can continue to touch the hearts of believer and non-believer alike. Can you see the star? Can you hear the angels singing?

The original message can be found at the Hawaii Catholic Herald.

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