25 December – Midnight Mass
Joy for all the people
A young couple got married 10 years ago. They came from well-off families and both were working. They were very blessed in almost every aspect of their marriage. They loved each other even more than when they were first married. But their biggest cross was that despite their great desire, they had no children. They spent a great amount of money in going to various doctors and having all the necessary tests but to no avail. They were even unsuccessful in trying to adopt a baby.
Then they heard of a certain doctor who claimed to have discovered a drug that could help certain infertile couples. But it was new and there were possible side effects because the drug hadn’t really been tested enough. The couple were so desperate that they agreed to take the risk so great was their desire to have a baby. Luckily for them the drug worked and they were blessed with a healthy baby. I don’t have to tell you that their joy was unlimited. So too was that of their families and friends. The joy that the little baby gave to so many was a marvel to experience.
Two thousand years ago another young couple had a baby in a stable in Bethlehem. This time the joy was not to be limited to the young couple, Mary and Joseph but as the angel told the shepherds in the gospel of Luke “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 hard 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? As I was reflecting on the readings it struck me very strongly that 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 and limited people 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 couldn’t attend the synagogue religious services except perhaps only from time to time.
For me 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 by our side. 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? I suspect that if we were told the statue of the Sacred Heart in a certain Manila church started to show blood coming from the heart there would be thousands of people trying to get to see it. Maybe later it is discovered it is due to a leak of water dripping from the ceiling on to the red paint of the statue. I for one have no interest in such a display. Not because of a lack of faith but hopefully because I try to see God, the majestic creator of our Universe still revealing himself to me in the same very ordinary, limited ways today in the different people and events of daily life as well as when I pray.
When I saw for example as I came near the Church tonight a young mother picking up her small child who tripped, fell and was crying and she was holding him close to her heart to console him, I can see again a God in Jesus who allowed himself to be picked up by Mary his mother when he fell and was crying. When I see a young couple trying to get some seats in a bus as they travel home for Christmas and are told there is standing room only but they accept this limitation, then I see Mary and Joseph searching for space in Bethlehem and having to do with less than they hoped for without complaining, seeing this as part of life’s limitations. When I see someone diagnosed as having Aids and many of his family and friends reject him but some people who maybe don’t even believe in God showing him kindness, I can see Jesus as the 10 lepers approach and he doesn’t turn away, but actually touches them.
Friends of mine before they got married would spend hours and hours together even to staying out till 3 in the morning so that they could stay with each other as long as possible. They couldn’t bear to be apart for long. So too with Jesus. He wants to stay close to us. So Jesus came 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 or tabernacles among us. He is inviting us to draw close to him. 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.
Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA