In one city there was a man who, every December, went about looking for people down on their luck and then surreptitiously sent them money. He became known as the Secret Santa. A newspaper reporter tracked him down and asked him why he did this, and the man—whom we’ll call Harold—explained that he was a very successful businessman and he wanted to share his blessings with those in need. However, Harold said, he wasn’t always well-off. Many years earlier he was an out-of-work salesman and had sunk so low he was forced to live in his car. One time he had gone two days without eating, so he walked into a diner and ordered breakfast—a huge breakfast, since he was so hungry— even though he had no money. While eating his meal, he wondered how he was going to get out of paying for it, and when the check came he fumbled around in his pockets, pretending to have lost his wallet. The owner of the diner had already sized him up as a homeless person without any money, and normally he would have called the police—but it was the Christmas season, so he walked over to the man’s table, pretended to pick something up from the floor, and said, “Excuse me, sir, but you seem to have dropped this $20 bill.” Mumbling his surprised thanks, Harold was then able to pay his bill, leave a tip, and even have a few dollars leftover to spend later in the day. He never forgot this totally undeserved act of generosity and kindness—and so, as he explained to the newspaper reporter, when his fortunes finally changed, he vowed to spend his life doing the same thing for others (William J. Bausch, The Story Revealed, pp. 80-81). Just as the owner of the diner provided the money to pay the bill to his own restaurant, so Jesus gives us a gift even though it’s His birthday—and He asks us to thank Him by passing it on.
Why was Jesus born near Bethlehem? It was, of course, the city of King David, and because Joseph was of the house of David, he and Mary went there for the Roman census. Also, Jesus was part of the royal line of King David, and it was prophesied the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. However, there was even another reason why that was the fitting place for Him to be born. In ancient Israel, shepherds had to raise and tend their sheep far from any city or town—but there was one exception. Those sheep meant to be sacrificed in the Temple in Jerusalem needed to be raised fairly close by— namely, outside the town of Bethlehem, which is just a few miles from Jerusalem. Thus Jesus, the Lamb of God, was born in the same place as the lambs destined for sacrifice, and the shepherds of Bethlehem were, fittingly, the first to see Him (Jonathan Cahn, The Book of Mysteries, #125). As the ultimate sacrificial Lamb, Jesus came to die in our place, and He gave of Himself completely for our salvation. As the angelic choir proclaimed in the skies overhead, this was indeed good news for those persons desiring to know and do God’s Will—and this is meant to include every single one of us. Furthermore, it’s not enough for us to acknowledge Jesus in a passive way; if our faith in Him is real, we’ll put it into practice and share His love and truth with those around us.
The shepherds of Bethlehem probably didn’t realize that the Baby whose birth was just announced to them was one day going to die for the salvation of the world, but they did know something amazing had happened, and after seeing the Child for themselves, they made known to others what they had heard and seen—just as Harold the Secret Santa passed on the gift he had received. How are we doing in this regard? If someone does us a favor, do we look for an opportunity to return it, or—better yet—extend the chain of kindness by lending a helping hand to someone else? That’s a simple enough concept to understand and put into practice, but many of us fall short in the even more important dynamic of responding to God’s love. The Lord God has given us not only the gift of life, and all our talents and opportunities and abilities, but also the supremely valuable gift of eternal salvation—none of which we have earned or merited. Do we demonstrate to God that we truly are grateful? Do we take His commandments, and the teachings of the Church, seriously? Do we pray and attend Mass regularly? Do we try to overcome our sins and grow in divine grace? Do we give a higher priority to the values of God’s Kingdom than to those of this world? Do we bear witness to Jesus in our thoughts, words, and deeds?
It shouldn’t take a surprise gift of cash from a Secret Santa to make us aware of how greatly we’ve been blessed; each new day is meant to be experienced as a blessing and a reminder of our need for God, and an opportunity to express our gratitude by showing generosity and compassion in His Name. Everyone talks about the “Christmas spirit,” but the way we make it real is by letting the love of Jesus reside in us and flow through us. Our Lord’s humble yet miraculous birth at Bethlehem is a personal invitation to each one of us. Christ the Savior has come—and He awaits our heartfelt response.