Celebrating the Birth of Christ for the 80th time

Dear family and friends,

I certainly don’t remember anything from my first celebration of the birth of Christ. I do know that my understanding of the significance of Christ’s birth has changed over the years. In fact, it has changed so much that I can only think of it in terms something Bede Griffith said. In a TV interview when he was 80, he said, “I have learned more in the past year than I did in all the years that went before”.

I have always been struck by his words but never more so than now that I have reached his age. So, my Christmas letter this year is different than any I have ever written before. Rather than a recounting of events of the past year, I would like to share with you what I now understand about the significance of celebrating Jesus’ birth and the excitement of what it reveals to me about myself and each of us.

A baby changes everything 

During the past year, my sister’s family has been blessed with quite a few babies – much to Great-Grandma’s delight! Each announcement (or “reveal”) was very creatively unique. What great joy and anticipation that a baby was coming!

Having a baby is a life-changer. It bears repeating.  A baby changes everything! They make their parent’s lives more hectic, busy and complicated. But more importantly, they make them better in more ways than we can count. It gives a whole other perspective to waking up every day and all that parents do.

I have often heard parents say, “No one can really tell you beforehand.”  “You really can’t understand it until it happens to you.”

One baby changed everything – for everyone – literally!

Never was that truer than of the birth of the one we call Jesus of Nazareth.

But let me ask a question about that change. What did God really change by being born among us? Did Jesus come to change God’s mind? Or did Jesus come to change our minds?

Some would claim Jesus came to change God’s mind about us. But God’s mind did not need changing! Jesus did not tell us about an angry old man. He told us of a father who loves from beginning to end… no matter what. “God has first loved us!” “God loves us even on the cross. We didn’t earn God’s love any more than a baby earned the gift of life or loving parents.

I am of the school that Jesus came to change our minds

  • About God – He proved that God really does identify with us and knows intimately our day to day problems… and their worst manifestations, even the horrible reality of betrayal and death on a cross.
  • About ourselves – He reminds us that we beloved sons and daughters of God made in God’s image and likeness.
  • About one another – He showed us what it is like to be sons and daughters of God who cares for everyone, especially the lowest and the neglected.
  • About what the kingdom of God looks like – He taught us that the kingdom of God excludes no one and is not a kingdom ruled by a few select individuals.
  • About all creation – He demonstrated what it means to be sons and daughters of God who cares for everyone and everything in an unfolding universe.

If this is not a call to change our way thinking I don’t know what is. We are still struggling to understand how the birth of Jesus changed everything – for everyone – literally

Jesus came to wake us up to our dignity in the “real world” of being sons and daughters of God.

Waking up to the Jesus change

We are waking up to a continually unfolding change of how we view ourselves.

By becoming one of us God calls us to overcome the root cause of our selfishness, thinking we are the center of our world and the universe. At our birth we unconsciusly think that.

Jesus is the model of living in the kingdom of God. We need only look at the lessons of his life and death. “Do this in memory of me!” “Wash one another’s feet as I have washed yours.” “Whaatever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters you do to me.”

This is putting on the “mind of Christ”. How different this mind is from the mind of the world that implicitly lives by a “me first mentality”, grasping power, comfort, and security.

“Keep Christ in Christmas” is more than a slogan of the culture wars. In its fullest sense it is a challenge to live with the mind of Christ. “Put on the mind of Christ.”

Vincent had his own practical way of expressing this systemic change of our way of thinking. “Let us love God, brothers, let us love God, but let it be with the strength of our arms and the sweat of our brows” We have many contemporary ways of saying it. Among them, “Put your money where your mouth is!”

Now more than ever, I am attempting to change my mind to the way of thinking Jesus came to show us. More than ever I am trying to think with Jesus mindset. Repent, which literally means change our way of thinking, and see one another as he sees us.

As I said, I don’t remember anything from my first celebration of the birth of Jesus. Nor do I remember anything from my Baptism into Christ. But I now understand my Baptism as the beginning of my journey of waking up to who I really am as a human being fully alive in God with all my brothers and sisters today and reaching back (even beyond the 14 generations a cousin in Germany traced on my father’s side!) to Adam and Eve.

,, I am proud of being John Freund, son of Alice and Richard Freund. I am proud to be a Vincentian priest. But, ultimately, I am still waking up to the implications of Baptism, the vocation of being a person who is trying to put on the mind of Jesus.

I now understand why Pope Francis says it is more important to remember and celebrate our Baptism than our birthday. It marks the beginning of the journey into this radical new way of understanding what it means to be fully human.

The exciting realizations of keeping Christ not only in Christmas but in my remaining days.

  • I now realize the birth of Jesus is an invitation to a radical change in my thinking.
  • I now realize that my Baptism is the specific call to recognize and put on the mind of Christ.
  • I now realize that if I understand what a dignity it is for us to be the mystical body of Christ, I must mature into this new way of seeing, thinking, and acting out of my Christ-consciousness. 

This vision of life is far more exciting than the toys I got from Santa Claus as a child! It is a gift that truly keeps giving life! I hope that each year your excitement also grows.