The advent season is a period of waiting and anticipation. Unfortunately during that anticipation we can often become distracted and wrapped up in the secular meaning of the season. Fortunately there are a number of books we can read to get us back on track. One of those is the latest from Scott Hahn, Joy to the World: How Christ’s Coming Changed Everything (and Still Does).
Scott takes us on a mini-retreat to discover what the true meaning of Christmas is. He details the many people, places and things involved in the miraculous events surrounding the birth of the savior of the world. By many I mean all. Chapters are devoted to King Herod, Mary, Joseph, the Angels, the Magi, the shepherds, and the town of Bethlehem itself. Each chapter is detailed on the subject matter including multiple references to Scripture as well as writings of the Church Fathers and sources such as the Protevangelium of James.
The Christmas story is one that was meant for all. Christ’s coming was not exclusive to nobility. Instead he chose to appear as a fragile and innocent baby in a forgotten town called Bethlehem. Not only how he appeared but how he was announced was unique. As Scott puts it “To understand the meaning of Christmas, the simplest field hands were better equipped than the most erudite scholars”. Consider that point. God chose to announce the birth of his Son not to the King of the region, Herod who was most concerned about the appearance of the long anticipated Messiah. Instead he revealed the birth of his Son to lowly shepherds who were looked upon as unclean and filthy. “A shepherd’s work required constancy, and his time in the field often kept him from observing the hundreds of laws for ritual purity imposed by the Pharisees. It was a commonplace notion in Jesus’ day that only the rich could afford the leisure to keep the law – and therefore be saved.” How Christ appeared and how his birth was announced changed everything. The world expected a triumphant leader that would lead Israel in an earthly battle. Instead they received the leader of everyone from the lowly to the most noble IF they were willing to accept him.
Early in the book Scott makes the following point. “The stories of Jesus’ conception and birth are certainly unusual. They recount several apparitions of angels, unique astronomical phenomena, and no shortage of miracles. Modern readers, by training, are not sure what to do with all this. We live in a world of marvels, but we are schooled to put these aside if they do not fit the broadest generalities in categories confirmed by the scientific method and approved by a magisterium of skeptics.” This is why the study of the events surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ is so important and why this book is so needed. Our secular society focuses on the wrong things during this season placing the importance on Black Friday deals and the gift exchanges that it has become. We as Catholics need to return focus on “the reason for the season” as the popular phrase states and we can do that by celebrating the feast of Christmas for what it is…..the birth of our Savior that brought joy to those who witnessed it and should bring joy to us still today.
Showing AND sharing that joy is evangelization. From the book: “Such evangelization is for everyone – even those who feel they cannot articulate a defense for the faith, or explain every doctrine, or prove everything from the bible…….We evangelize when we enjoy our Catholic faith – when we enjoy celebrating the feasts – when we have ourselves a merry little Christmas, and invite others to share it. That’s the best way to evangelize friends, family coworkers and everybody else. Why? Because the world offers countless pleasures, but no lasting joys. What Jesus Christ gives is joy, even in the midst of hardship and sorrow – even amid persecution, flight and exile.”
Scott Hahn presents the Christmas story in a way that allows us all to gain a deeper understanding of the significance of the event. He does something else as well. He returns the reader’s focus not only to the true meaning of this time of year but presents his book in a manner that elicits wonder, awe and joy of the events that occurred some 2000 years ago. By reading this book you can regain the joy that the season deserves. Take that joy and then invite others to enjoy the feast as well. Be a witness of joy to the birth of this child in a lowly manger and recapture the event that changed everything…and still does.
Read my interview with Scott Hahn about Joy to the World here.
I received a copy of the book for this review from the publisher, Image Catholic Books.