Recently, I saw an article headline to the effect that Christmas might not happen this year. I imagine the headline was alluding to the pandemic-induced absence of the usual Christmas gatherings and parties. But there is an important sense in which it is just not possible for Christmas not to happen this year or any other year.  

Christmas has already happened — a little over 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem. Jesus Christ our God became incarnate, took on our flesh, and became like us in all things but sin. And He took this human flesh on for all eternity; He will never cease to be both God and man. 

Each year at Christmas we re-live, re-enter into, this mystery — remembering it, in the biblical sense of its being present to us here and now. No absence of parties, events, or even family gatherings can ever put an end to what He has done for us. In fact, the Incarnation makes such a difference in our lives as Christians — both in terms of what Christ has done for us and of how we should respond to and share this gift — that one of our Sisters is fond of saying that “every day is Christmas.”

No absence of parties, events, or even family gatherings can ever put an end to what He has done for us. In fact, the Incarnation makes such a difference in our lives as Christians — both in terms of what Christ has done for us and of how we should respond to and share this gift — that one of our Sisters is fond of saying that “every day is Christmas.”

Every day, Christ should become incarnate anew in our lives. Christmas is not just a thing of the past; we live this mystery of the Incarnation every day in our participation in the Church’s liturgy, in our private prayers, in concrete love of our neighbor “whom we can see” (cf. 1 John 4:20).

But it is true that there is something special about celebrating this mystery of Christmas each year with loved ones and as a Church community. And this aspect of our Christmas celebrations might look very different this year indeed. Many, sadly, will not be able to attend Mass or gather with extended family members this Christmas. My mission community — the four of us Sisters who live together in Rome — will be the only members of our religious community not able to gather together with other Sisters for Christmas; travel is too complicated right now because of the virus. 

And whereas there is a sense of being hand-picked by the Lord to be in Rome for Christmas, there is also a true sacrifice involved. Even some of the Christmas-in-Rome things that helped make the sacrifice less bitter and rather sweet are impossible for us right now. We had hoped, for instance, to attend the pope’s Christmas midnight Mass, but the pope’s Christmas liturgies now must be private. As wonderful as it would be to attend the pope’s Mass, it is the same Jesus who will come to us in our small convent chapel as would have come in St. Peter’s — the same Jesus, in fact, who came 2,000 years ago as a Babe in Bethlehem’s manger.

What are we to make of the fact that we cannot be together or celebrate in the same ways for Thanksgiving next week and Christmas next month? If you are like most of us, you have probably spent a lot of time complaining about all the difficulties that 2020 has held. How can we be grateful in light of it all? How can we keep our eyes on what these days of gratitude, anticipation and celebration are really about?

Perhaps we should turn to the poverty shown us in the true story of Christmas. Not only the poverty of “no room in the inn,” of “no place to lay His head,” of a Newborn wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in an animal feeding trough — but the poverty of a God who took on the flesh of His own creatures! When we are tempted this year to think of all the things we do not have, let us remember that we have Him, who completely poured Himself out to become one of us, in all our poverty and weakness. 

It is in our emptiness that we are open to receive Him as He comes to us. Truly nothing but our own closed hearts can keep Christmas from happening in our lives this year.

Sr. Mary Martha Becnel is a member of the Ann Arbor-based Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.