Joy for all the people
Two thousand years ago a young couple had a baby in a stable in Bethlehem. Their joy – despite the terrible conditions in which the mother gave birth – was shared by so many others. The shepherds who were at first filled with fear heard the comforting words of the angel, “You have nothing to fear! I come to proclaim good news to you. News of great joy to be shared by the whole people”.
On this Christmas night what is our reaction? Do we find it to be good news? Do we feel joy? Some may feel they have to experience a deep emotion or a kind of joy one experiences in hearing a family member has been totally cured of a cancer they thought would lead to certain death. Not so. The peace and the joy may simply be a feeling of deep peace and a conviction that whatever happens us in life the Christ-child will see us through it. It means also that even in time of suffering we somehow feel able to cope knowing God-is-with-us, Jesus Emmanuel, that God is holding us.
Maybe the difficulty is that we would prefer God to come with signs and wonders. Maybe with trumpets and a great firework display. God’s ways are just not like that. This is a very, very difficult lesson to learn and accept. Why doesn’t God act as I think God should? But I am not God and He is, and our God is telling us very clearly and with great insistence and frequency that “His ways are not our ways” as the prophet Isaiah tells us. But will we accept it? Mary and Joseph were like many young couples expecting a baby. They lived in a small town and when the order came they had to leave their town of Nazareth to journey to Bethlehem to report for the census ordered by the emperor. At Bethlehem there was no room for them at the inn. But should we blame the other people seeking for shelter that night? Mary and Joseph were like many others who couldn’t find shelter. Joseph did what was possible and found a stable and so Jesus is born there. It is the beginning of the story of God who takes on human limitation and lives it out not trying to use miraculous ways to avoid this limitation. Jesus never worked miracles for his own comfort, to avoid limitation and suffering, always only for others. He ‘came and dwelt among us’ and went through the many human experiences of limitation in life that we go through. You see God in Jesus knows us from the inside. He lived our experiences. He knows our struggles, our difficulties. He knows what we are up against and so understands us. Isn’t that a wonderful God to have? That is a great reason for joy this night.
He is the God who chooses to be on the side of the poor of our world. He takes the side of the marginalised. He chooses to use Mary and Joseph. He also used the shepherds – a group despised by almost all the Jewish religious leaders of the time because, due to the nature of their work, they only attended the synagogue religious services occasionally.
Christmas is the story of a God choosing to come amongst us. He is a God who doesn’t choose to come first to the mighty and wealthy even though he cares for them and loves them too. But because most of us have to struggle to make ends meet, to live limitation, like not having as much money as we would like to have to give to our children what we would wish for them. God comes especially to the people who for the most part are not among the important ones of our world, except to their families and some friends. God walks with us. So I really thank God for coming to us in so very ordinary ways, taking on our limitations, partaking in our struggles, encouraging us to keep going when we get a bit discouraged or even depressed etc.
But why do we find it so hard to accept his so very, very ordinary ways of coming to us as he did the first Christmas and still does each day?
At this time in our country more and more families are being put out of their homes. People are coming from Syria and other countries seeking a better life. They remind us of Mary and Joseph searching for space in Bethlehem. How will we treat the new homeless? Immigrants? Refugees? Yes, our government must take a lead in dealing with this. But I too have my part to play.
God loves each and everyone. There is no hierarchy in God’s love. And so God sent Jesus among us to invite us to enter into a deep personal relationship with Him. He is not a God who stays far off in heaven; he is a God who dwells among us, particularly in those in need around us. He is inviting us to draw close to him [to them]. He didn’t come in majesty and power lest he frighten us away but as one like us to show solidarity with us.
“Lord Jesus, when will we learn the lesson you keep on trying to teach us. That you still come to us in limitation and ordinariness. But we often want a God of great signs and wonders which you are also. Often we fail to see you in the very ordinary people who continue quietly and humbly doing the best they can in difficult circumstances. Maybe we fail to have the joy you want us to have because we may be looking for it in the wrong places and people. Come Lord Jesus; open our eyes to your ways of being amongst us each day in ordinariness and limitation. Praise you Jesus.
Edited from an original homily of Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA