So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child. All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds.” (Lk 2:15-18)
Christmas can carry with it a lot of nostalgia for many of us. The season brings back memories of past Christmases, and might be particularly difficult for those who’ve recently lost loved ones. We might remember the happy times that we had, and we might be filled with a little nostalgia. It’s interesting that the word “nostalgia” is formed by two Greek words, nóstos, meaning “homecoming” and álgos, meaning “distress.” The word really means something close to “homesickness.”
We tend to understand the word nostalgia as a “longing for the past.” And when we “wax nostalgic,” we might call to mind an idealized past free from the difficulties, uncertainties and stresses of the present. We might think of our childhood, when life was much more “simpler” – well, at least for the children!
During Christmas, I always remember sitting at the top of the steps at my family house with my parents, my three sisters and my brother waiting to go down and see what “Santa” left for us. But before we went down, we always had to do two things. We had to say some morning prayers, and we had to sing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus so we wouldn’t forget that it was His day, not ours. Of course, we’d forget that lesson as we ran down to get our presents!
But a true Christian nostalgia isn’t an idealized remembrance; it’s yearning for something real. It’s not directed to discarded presents from the past, but the true gift given by our Heavenly Father. As the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI said at one of his weekly audiences: “When, in liturgical celebrations, we hear or pronounce the phrase: ‘Today the Savior is born for us,’ we are not using an empty conventional expression, what we mean is that ‘today,’ now, God is giving us the possibility to recognize and accept Him, as did the shepherds of Bethlehem, so that He can also be born into and renew our lives.”
When it comes down to it, true Christian nostalgia is directed not toward some idealized home we remember from our past but toward a Heavenly home that the Birth of Christ made possible. Our true home is not a fuzzy memory that might make us sad, it’s the object of true Christian hope that should fill us with joy! This year has been a joyful one for me, even amid life’s difficulties. But celebrating our Christ-Mass in Good Shepherd Parish – amid so many beloved parishioners – is a reminder to me of Heaven.
(Rev. Msgr.) Christopher H. Nalty