HARLINGEN — It’s Christmas, and celebrations abound everywhere of Christians celebrating this hallowed day.
Variations of this celebration can be found in many churches but so can the similarities. Every pathway to the Christian faith — Catholic, Presbyterian, Baptist, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Pentecostal, and all the others — perceive God, Christmas and the Savior through their own eyes.
This is because they approach it from a different direction, they see it at a different angle, so they will see a different side of Christianity and it’s holy days.
Such can be said even of every individual. Not one can see it quite the same way. But some common threads connect churches and believers into a complex whole. Of principal importance to many of them: the celebration of Christ’s birth and His second coming.
“As we celebrate it we think about not just Christ’s first coming but we look forward to His second coming which is what he has promised,” said Pastor Nathan Wendorf at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church.
“We’re remembering that God in his mercy loved us so much that he became one of us,” Wendorf said. “For our sake He lived, and not just lived but died and rose for us.”
Lutherans, Anglicans and Catholics begin the Christmas season with Advent, a period of preparation leading up to Christmas Day.
“We prepare for Christmas for four weeks of Advent,” said the Rev. Michael Thorne Jarrett, priest at Trinity Mission which is an Anglican church in Harlingen.
“During that time we spend time meditating and doing blessings in our households and in our churches, the coming nativity of Christ as well as the second coming of Christ,” Jarrett said. “Usually most Anglican churches at some time during Advent will have a service of lessons and carols.”
Catholics make their preparations during Advent by going to confessions, said the Rev. Alejandro Flores at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church.
“The Church prepares by examining our lives and seeing if we’re ready to welcome Christ,” said Flores, “because it’s a celebrates not just of His birth in Bethlehem but His coming again in glory and of course His coming into our hearts every day.”
In the Hispanic culture, Catholics also present “Las Posadas” in which a group of people moves from one part of the church to another and singing songs about looking for an inn in Bethlehem. This is to reenact Joseph and Mary seeking lodging and being turned away by one home after another until they are granted permission to spend the night in a stable.
“On Christmas Day we celebrate the great masses of Christmas especially with the traditional midnight mass,” he said. “We celebrate the night hours in which Christ was born and the Church is decorated very finely with the poinsettias and flower arrangements and nativity scenes and that allows us to kind of cast our minds into that town of Bethlehem.”
Often during this time the phrase is oft-repeated “Jesus is the reason.” Wendorf said it’s more than that.
“The sentiment is hopeful but I think we need to remember that we’re the reason,” Wendorf said. “Humanity is the reason that Jesus came, not because we tried hard, not because we were just needing help, we needed everything. We needed someone to rescue us, to deliver us, and I think it being Christmas is great because we get to hear some of the pre-promises in the Old Testament.”
Those promises speak of a coming Messiah who would rescue people and the world from the ravages of sin, death and decay.
“The names of Jesus in the book of Isaiah calls him Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace,” Wendorf said. “We see all this Old Testament prophecy being fulfilled, not just in the birth of Jesus but in his life, his death and his resurrection.”
Christmas, he said, is kind of that reminder that, “Hey, God has a gift for you, and it’s His very self for you.”
The gift, the message, is this: You matter, you have a worth, so much so that God, the Creator of all, sent his own Son into the physical world to live among us for a time.
Let us remember this in the coming year and for all time.