Keeping both CHRIST and the MASS in Christmas

“It’s not so much, as the popular saying goes, that we should keep Christ in Christmas, but we should prepare ourselves to keep the Mass in Christmas. For it is our worship of God Incarnate that will reign forever, after all these material things – even the earth itself – have passed away.”

This quote comes from an article in this month’s The Word magazine entitled “The Ghost of Past Christmas Presents” by Fr. Joseph Huneycutt. The article is a humorous look at where our attention often gets pulled this time of year. One of the common reactions to the commercialization of Christmas that Linus so eloquently decries in “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is to “Put Christ back in Christmas.” A worthy effort, to be sure. But just how do we do that?

As the above quote makes clear, the principle way we do that is to “keep the Mass in Christmas.” While we Orthodox do not normally refer to the Divine Liturgy by the Western term “Mass,” we willingly borrow it when we refer to the Feast of the Nativity of Christ in the Flesh (the formal Orthodox name for this Feast) as “Christmas.” In the original meaning of this Latin term, it is the “Christ’s Mass,” the Eucharistic celebration remembering the Birth of the Savior.

Yet how many of us typically attend this Liturgy? Do we keep both “Christ” and “the Mass” in Christmas? If we do, we know it’s not easy. In the full “schedule” of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, we have food to cook, cookies to bake, presents to wrap (or maybe even shop for!), homes to clean, family to pick up at the airport, last-minute cards to get in the mail, and then the execution of all the celebration that these preparations are for. Fitting in Church into that full mix can just seem like a bridge too far.

But let’s reconsider that sentiment: fitting in Church. It assumes the rest of the schedule is what’s mandatory and the Divine Services are what’s optional, an “added bonus” if time allows. But if this is how we’ve observed (or more properly not observed) the Birth of Christ, why do we wring our hands and wonder how is it that each successive generation seems less inclined to all things religious? Many of us decry the “spiritual but not religious” lifestyle as poppycock. And yet at one of the key moments of the whole Church Year–the liturgical celebration of the Birth of Christ–haven’t we too often been “spiritual but not religious” ourselves? Cue “Cats in the Cradle” as we realize our kids “have grown up just like me, yeah, the boy is just like me.”

While we could just be guilty or conflicted, we could instead remember that one of the key messages of Christmas is that this Newborn King makes all things new. He offers us a new opportunity to live in a new way. Is it hard to make Church a part of our Christmas celebration? Let’s be honest: none of it is easy. Is it any harder than any other part of Christmas? Only if we keep Church as less essential than all the rest.

So this year, if “Christ’s Mass” hasn’t been a part of what we call our “Christmas,” let’s take hold of the newness He offers us and rise above all the hustle and bustle, climbing up to meet Him Who comes down to save us.  As Fr. Huneycutt explores in his article, we rarely remember for long the gifts that once brought us what we called “Christmas joy.” Gathering to give thanks to our loving God in Church is the only true source of true “Christ’s Mass” joy.