This post originally appeared on Catholicism Live!
I remember standing on the Mount of Beatitudes before breakfast one morning, drinking in the beauty of the Sea of Galilee. It was still my first week in the Holy Land, and I was confused. I whispered a prayer:
“Father, why did you bring me here? I have so much faith in You. Why didn’t you bring someone else—a person who needs to know You more urgently than I do?”
The mountain’s flowers were spread out in bright pinks, purples, yellows, and reds. Galilee’s beauty was overwhelming. “I feel so spoiled,” I continued. “I don’t know why You chose to bring me to this beautiful place.”
The air was so still and silent. As my eyes followed the seashore, I heard a quiet response in my heart: “I brought you here to show you how much I love you.”
That wasn’t quite a satisfactory answer at the time. I smiled, but my eyes squinted into the waters of the sea, searching for a better answer. A few minutes later, I walked away. Today, however, I am beginning to believe in God’s response.
As my friends and family will tell you, I’m very hard on myself. I’ve worn myself out all my life, earning high grades, winning awards, gaining leadership positions, trying to be a good daughter, a nice sister, a kind niece, a polite granddaughter, the perfect girlfriend, the hardworking employee, volunteering at church, serving the community, starting ministries, doing favors.
Whenever I fail to meet my high standards, I become anxious and frustrated. I question the extent of God’s love for me. Intellectually, it always made sense that God loved me. I knew for certain that He loved everyone else. But in my heart, I was never really, really sure about God’s love for me.
Has there ever been a time in your life when someone wanted to assure you of their love for you? Did that person invite you to come and be with them? I think that’s what God did for me in the Holy Land. He invited me to the place where He became like me. Once I said yes, He provided the means, the money, the pilgrimage, and the availability. Amazing. That is the God of the Universe.
But the key is this: God invited me to the place where He became like me. In Nazareth, God became like us. He was conceived in the womb of a woman. He was born in Bethlehem. Believe me, I’ve heard this just as many times as you have. Before I saw them with my own eyes, these places were honestly just names in very important stories. Now? I want you to know that they are REAL places. I walked in their roads. I spoke to the inhabitants. I smelled the open-air marketplaces, shops, and bakeries. They are places with dirt and trees and sky. And as real as those places are, so is Jesus. Jesus is a real person. Stop—think about it! He walked through real roads, spoke to real people, smelt the real marketplaces. He got dirt on his real feet, and picked fruit from real trees, and the sky really reflected in His eyes.
Jesus is a real human being. And He really does love you.
To me, this is what Christmas means. Christmas is not a nice wintertime holiday when we take time off of work, eat food, and see our families. Christmas is not a gift exchange. Christmas is not Santa Claus or elves or the North Pole. Christmas is not about a nice little baby who was born to a beautiful mother in a mysterious, foreign-looking city.
You want to know the real meaning of Christmas? Then erase every Christmas card you’ve ever seen from your memory. Instead, go outside and look at the sky. Look down at the ground and run your finger through the dirt. Christmas means realizing that Jesus did the same things. It means knowing that Jesus is a real, human person. And He is also really God. He loves you. His heart is beating for you.
Christmas is not about a myth, or a story, or a dreamlike fantasy. Christmas is about a reality. God became a real human person because His love is that strong. He wanted you to know His love. He wanted you to know it with the same certainty that you know what it’s like to eat an apple or scrape your knee. He is real. Now, how does that change your life?