Throughout Advent, we have been preparing the way of the Lord. At last we come to the great and joyful celebration of Christ’s birth. The solemnity of Christmas is so important that the church offers us four different sets of readings. There are beautiful divine and human experiences in those readings that relate to us. They will help us to recognize not only the Lord born in Bethlehem but also the Lord who wants to be born and carried in each of our lives.
In the gospel of the “Vigil Mass,” Saint Matthew describes for us the very human drama facing Saint Joseph, “…Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly.” If we contemplate this scene from Saint Joseph’s perspective we can get into touch with our own moments of questioning or doubting someone who we truly love. Can I trust again? Am I afraid of what others might think if I continue a relationship with someone others have judged and condemned? What are the fears I carry in my heart as I think of Saint Joseph’s situation? God says to Joseph through an angel, “do not be afraid” and to name the child Emmanuel which means “God is with us.” In the most difficult decisions in my life, I am called to remember that God is with me. The teaching of this first liturgy brings into focus the deeper meaning of Christ’s birth in each of our lives.
In the gospel of the “Mass during the night,” Saint Luke focuses on the actual birth of Jesus in a manger and the announcement of good news to the shepherds. How many refugees are in the world today because of political decisions? The experience of oppression can come from many different sources, but always results in the same hurt and pain. Have I ever felt trapped in a hopeless situation? Can I relate to the feeling of despair in Mary and Joseph as they searched for a place of refuge where the child could be born? Can I relate to the agony that they felt because of the love they already had for the child that was coming into the world? Can I remember a time when someone showed solidarity and walked with me in my agony as Joseph walked with Mary? Have there been times in my life of great material loss when I discovered that the true treasure of my life lies in the person or persons I love? Jesus was born in a stable and dressed in swaddling clothes but He is the most precious gift given to us by God. Have I allowed painful life experiences to harden my heart, shutting it like the doors of the inns in Bethlehem? The shepherds represent people who tend to the needs of others. Because their focus is outward, they see the glory of God. Am I aware of the miracles God works through many people in my life?
In the Gospel of the “Mass at dawn,” Saint Luke recounts the experience of the shepherds when they arrive at the manger. What did the shepherds see? With their physical eyes, they saw an impoverished couple with a newborn child lying in the manger. However, with the eyes of their hearts they recognized the presence of God in their midst. As the Little Prince says, “what is essential is invisible to the eyes.” When my heart is healed of my past hurts, losses, disappointments and disillusionments, I once again can truly see. Do I see with the eyes of a child God’s loving gaze upon me? I am called to look again at my life from the eyes of my heart.
In the gospel of the “Mass during the day,” we hear from Saint John, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” God’s love is eternal; that means God has always loved me and will always love me. Do I believe it? Does my heart burn with the divine life God breathes into me? Do I feel the light of the Lord shining in my heart for all to see? “…the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it.” Do I believe that God’s goodness in me outshines the darkness of my sins and errors? Like John the Baptist, I am called to announce that God has saved us all, starting with me. John tells us that Jesus was sometimes not recognized and other times not accepted, but he still came and fulfilled his mission. Do I recognize God’s holy presence in myself and in others? The gospel tells me that I am a child of God. God believes in me. Do I believe in myself? It is God who has called me into existence and to God I will return one day. When I believe that in my heart, my life has meaning. I was created for a purpose.
These four gospel texts are meant to bring us to a deeper awareness of God, Emmanuel in each of us. Christmas joy comes from knowing that I am not alone, abandoned or forgotten. God has sent his only son who will always be with me. May the Holy Spirit who announced the good news to Mary bear fruit in me so that I might carry his presence into the world.
Dearest God, the Father of our precious Lord Jesus Christ, born of Mary in a stable in Bethlehem, thank you for loving us so much. Contemplating your son’s first coming, may we allow him to be born again in each of our hearts. May his healing presence restore our lives and fill us, so that we may be a people who announce joy to the world. Amen.
By Fr. Joseph Jablonski, MSC