Flesh and Family: Reflections on Christmas 2020

Typically I reserve topics of spirituality and religion for my Sunday Series articles. Today’s article will reflect on Christmas 2020 from a Christian perspective, and so be a non-Sunday addition to the Sunday Series collection.


People around the world are celebrating Christmas differently this year. The limits put in place by our governments or own convictions alter or remove many of the pieces that we are used to having as part of our Christmastime. As I contemplate what Christmas Day has been like for myself and those around me, I think of two thematic connections between our experiences today and the first Christmas 2020 years ago.


Christmas is a corporeal celebration. What Christians celebrate on this day is that our God, previously only sensorily connecting with his people through such things as voice (Number 7:89), angels (Exodus 3:2) and food (Exodus 16:4), became flesh himself. An angel gave the message to Mary, so that the Message could arrive through her body (Luke 1:30-32). By taking on the same flesh as us and living out a full human life not as an apparition, but as an actual body with a beating heart and buzzing brain – God showed us how much he loves us. God taking on flesh was not God depreciating himself (for he could never do this), lowering himself to the level of a dirty body in order to save us. Rather, God taking on flesh was God exalting the body and showing its greater purpose (1 Corinthians 6:19). Sinless and corporeal at the same time, Jesus Christ remained perfect. Thus, corporeality is not ruinous to perfection. Jesus came, as flesh, to deliver us from our sin so that we could, bodies and souls, access Heaven through his Grace (Philippians 3:20-21). 

Jesus’ body arriving through Mary’s body makes the reality of our physical bodies a Christmas theme. While we meditate on this beautiful miracle of Christ’s birth, our own bodies are living within the world differently this year. What we’ve been calling “social distancing” for this pandemic is truly more of a “physical distancing.” Our bodies are staying apart. We cannot gather shoulder-to-shoulder in church pews. We cannot greet our many loved ones with hugs. We are mindful of our bodies and their biology as we negotiate who we will and will not gather with this Christmas. We are mindful of our bodies as we attempt to keep them healthy in this time. Perhaps we feel sadness as we miss the nearby bodies of our loved ones. Perhaps we feel gratitude as we appreciate the health of our bodies. As we celebrate the gift of God becoming man, this sacred story of bodies, we think of our bodies as well. May we know the goodness of our bodies, may we appreciate the gift of Christ taking flesh, and may the new year bring health to the bodies across the globe.


The Christmas story is also one of family. St. Joseph and the Virgin Mary, while she was heavily pregnant, travelled to Bethlehem for a census (Luke 2:1-5). They travelled as a family, ready to register as a family unit, and their journey to Bethlehem fulfilled the old prophecy of the Savior being born in that city (Micah 5:2-5a). The Nativity scene that we are used to, where Jesus sleeps in the manger, shows us a picture of an odd, though holy, family. Jesus is Mary’s biological son, but is Joseph’s adopted son. He would be raised by Joseph and trained in Joseph’s craft as a biological son would be, yet Jesus’ father is God. When I imagine possible moments of Jesus’ birth, I see moments of familial love: Joseph helping Mary to dismount the mule and settle comfortably as her labour furthered; his hand around hers as Jesus was birthed; Joseph tying off the umbilical cord connecting Jesus and Mary; Jesus crying out at his first exposure of air; Mary lifting him to her breast to warm and nourish him. This makeshift family, directed to remain together through God’s angels, each having said “yes” to the call, is the picture of Christmas. Was Joseph ever expecting his betrothed to become pregnant, with a holy son no less? Was Mary ever expecting God to call her “blessed” and privilege her with the role of being the Mother of God (Luke 1:42-43)? Were either ever expecting for the moment of their Lord’s birth to take place somewhere as secluded and unusual as a stable?

Our families are also unexpectedly makeshift this year. Some of us are stuck alone this Christmas. Some with roommates or friends. Some with only a fraction of the family we would normally see. Some in cities we wouldn’t celebrate in usually. Harrying as it is, we too are making due with what we have and sharing tender familial moments with those we still are blessed to have around us. During this time, we might feel the sadness of missing a family member who couldn’t travel to join us, fear for our loved ones’ well being, or the anticipation of not knowing what comes next for the world. As we move ourselves to feelings of gratitude, deference and trust while praising Christ on Christmas, may we be strengthened by knowing that the Holy Family, too, may have felt sadness, fear and anticipation, and that, even so, they were able to turn toward their call from God, love each other and live as family even in such uncertain times.

The accompanying image is a detail of a painting of the Nativity by Giovanni Comandu da Mondovi (1795)

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