Why This Christmas Is So Significant

Judith Valente
4 min readDec 24, 2023
A traditional live Nativity scene with the Holy Family surroundied by shepherds in a field.
The Nativity story challenges us this year to see how its message of hope relates to the many conflicts afflicting the world, especially in Gaza.

A friend of mine sent me a reflection last week written by an Irish Redemptorist priest named Tony Flannery. “I find it hard to have much stomach for celebrating Christmas” this year, Father Flannery acknowleges. He says it is a struggle to preach on the Nativity “when thousands of babies and children are being slaughtered daily in the rubble of Gaza.”

The priest’s admission mirrors what many of us are experiencing with our world in so much chaos. Another friend wrote this week of how powerless she feels in the face of current events and wonders whether the prayer services for peace she attends and her emails to the White House advocating for an immediate and permanent cease fire in Gaza will make even a droplet of difference.

As a way of calling attention to the current horrors, a Lutheran pastor in Bethlehem placed the baby Jesus in his church’s Nativity scene, not in a manger, but on top of a pile of rubble.

“While the world celebrates Christmas with big festivities, in the homeland of Christmas, children are being killed, homes are being destroyed and families displaced,” Rev Isaac Munther of Bethlehem’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, said.

Father Flannery asks, “Is there hope in the Nativity story in the context of all this?”

My answer is a resounding Yes! This is one of the most significant Christmas seasons precisely because of the death and destruction engulfing the world. The current suffering makes all the more clear why we need to hold onto the hope for peace and light, compassion and mercy that is at the heart of the Christmas story.

I don’t say this out of some Pollyanna-ish need to feel better about the terrible things that are happening. I say this because I have been meditating on the daily Advent readings in ways I haven’t in the past, scrutinizing them them for insights into today’s crises. They shout above the groans of the current turmult that goodness, born out of Christ’s witness of love for us, will always win out in the end.

Consider this passage from Isaiah:

“Do you not know or have you not heard? This Lord is the eternal God, creator of the ends of the earth. [The Lord} does not faint or grow weary and his knowledge is beyond scrutiny. He gives strength to the fainting; for the weak he makes vigor abound … They that have hope in the Lord renew their strength, they will soar as with eagle’s wings; they will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not grow faint.”

Or this passage from Psalm 107:

They wandered in a barren desert

Finding no way to a city they could dwell in

Hungry they were and thirsty;

Their soul was fainting within them .

Then they cried to the Lord in their need

And God rescued them ….

That first part of the Psalm describes so accurately what the people of Gaza are enduring, what the innocent in all war zones endure.

A doll representing the baby Jesus lay upon stone rubble as part of a Nativity scene at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bethlehem this year.
A representation of the baby Jesus lay amid stone rubble at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bethlehem to draw attention to the deaths of thousands and babies and children in the war in Gaza.

And of course, these lines from Psalm 46:

God is for us a refuge and strength

An ever-present help in time of distress:

So we shall not fear though the earth should rock

Though the mountains quake to the heart of the sea …

These are not words written by people at the height of their power. They were not written during an economic boom or peaceful times. No, they were written by people who had known war, famine, exile, slavery. The people wrote to remind themselves that the evils afflicting them would not be the last word. That God would be present in all of it.

In her book “Advent, Christmas and Epiphany,” theologian Megan McKenna observes, “We are reminded of the pervading presence of God in all of history, in all the world, and in everyone’s life. God fills the universe and is working in all of creation, in all relationships, and events and in our individual lives. It is all of a piece. Suffering, misunderstandings, injustice, violence, life and death are incorporated into the larger will of God, which is always about life, deliverance and liberation.”

Writing this Advent in “Give Us This Day” put out by Liturgical Press, Sulpician priest Father Richard M. Gula asks us to move beyond our “spiritual blindness” in order to discern “the spiritual depths” waiting to be discovered. “Advent gives us time to make our perceptions finer,” he writes. “Spiritual insight sees with they eyes of the heart.”

On Christmas Day, many of us will hear the beginning of the gospel of John read at services: “What came to be through [Christ] was life and this life was the light of the human race; the light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

John too was writing at a difficult and traumatic moment in history. As we move toward Christmas, can we remember that no matter how dark the world seems, the light will always overcome the darkness. Just as importantly, we are called to be part of that light.

This Christmas, how are we bringing light into the darkness?

Two hands cup a lighted candle.
With our world in so much chaos, how can we bring light into the darkness?

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Judith Valente

Author of 4 spirituality books & 2 poetry collections. Award-winning reporter for Wall Street Journal, PBS-TV, Washington Post & 2 IL public radio stations.