Mary Coleman was a Maryknoll Sister who spent most of the Second World War in a Japanese prison camp. The guards were kind to the sisters and even shared their food with them. A place in the camp was set-aside for prayer and a finely carved crucifix graced one of the walls.
One year at Christmas time, someone carved a crude manger set, which was put out early in Advent but without the image of the Christ Child. On Christmas Eve the child was reverently placed in the manger and the sisters circled it in prayer.
One of the guards who had never seen a Christmas crib, looked on with interest. As the sisters were leaving the makeshift chapel, he stopped one of them, he pointed to Jesus in the manger and then to Jesus on the cross. "The same one?" he asked. "Yes." She answered. "I am so sorry!" He whispered.
That uninstructed guard was theologically ahead of many of us. The difference between a child's eye view of Christmas and that of an adult is that we celebrate it in the light of His life, death and resurrection. In other words, within the context of the joy of birth and life, the sadness of suffering and death and the final joy of resurrection and eternal life,
This reality was recognized by the early Church and by the Gospel writers. The feast of The Epiphany evokes Isaiah (60: 1-6) "They shall come from Sheba bearing gold and frankincense." Matthew, in his gospel (2: 1-12) adds a third gift... Myrrh. Oil used for anointing the dead. In this way, Matthew introduces the Passion into his Christmas narrative.
During the liturgical year, we focus on various events in the life of Christ and upon His teachings as reflected in the Scriptures and in the living tradition of The Church. It is vital for us to understand that Christmas and Easter have very little significance unless plugged-in to the total picture and that the same can be said of our Christian worship and practice.