In the days leading up to the feast of Christmas, the daily Gospels focus on the young girl who was to become the mother of God. They speak of how Mary's dreams for her life were shattered in an instant by the visit of an angel. Marys' story reminds us that the shattering of our vision of life - the disappointments, the heartbreaks, rejection, loneliness, confusion - all of these things are part of the preparation for a greater calling. Mary's story is our story. Like Mary, our own personal history becomes sacred history.
Mary's presence throughout the Advent experience makes our fears and anguish comprehensible. The uncertainty of life is overcome by the sure hope of God's coming to those who are waiting. The angel makes the announcement, Mary accepts, and then, we are told, "the angel left her." No guidance is given. Questions are left unanswered and we can assume that Mary is more confused than ever.
And yet Mary comes to symbolize God's coming into our hearts with his transforming presence. Longing for the light eventually brings the light. Faith opens into trust, and trust is not disappointed because the love of God is poured forth in the hearts of the brokenhearted. Certainly news of hope!
This is the "good news" announced by the angel. This is the good news she brought to Elizabeth and which filled her spirit with joy, enabling her to proclaim the greatness of the Lord.
Like Mary, we approach the feast of Christmas asking: Who is this child for us?
And her answer is ours. Christmas touches us deeply because there is innocence here, as there is with every baby born into this world. There is parental hope and dreams. There is the wonder of God at work in our midst. There is appreciation for the way this Child will reveal God's active and loving presence. There is hope here for all of us to share. We again retell this story with the conviction that His Spirit is active everywhere and that because of this Child, God's revelation is not confined to this place, this event, or this time in history.
Like Mary, we approach the feast of Christmas asking: What does God want from us?
And her answer is ours. Christmas touches us because it is a story challenging us to turn upside down where we look for the sacred. If we are looking for God’s glory amid the world’s brilliance and power we will not see it. The Christmas story invites us to look elsewhere for God’s shining forth. We must look past the mall music, the extravagant displays and the brightly wrapped gifts. The true God comes not on a throne, but as a helpless babe in a stable, displaced and away from home. His story enables us to recognize the presence of God in new and extraordinary ways.
Like Mary, we approach the feast of Christmas asking: How has God touched us?
And her answer is again ours. Christmas reminds us that Christ lives on among all people. He looks with compassion on our misery, and begs us to be different from the worldly and those without faith. He asks us to follow Him by overcoming our pride and selfishness, and to renounce the hoarding of material things, competing ruthlessly for success and controlling others at any cost.
The work of Advent is for us to discover the Christ who is truly among us. The work of Christmas is to mirror the life of Christ in our own. If, in fact, we walk in sadness and not in joy, if we continue to be captivated by material things, and are imprisoned by our own selfishness and narrowness of vision, if we are still surrounded by the poor and the homeless, if every day the tabloids scream of violence and crime, then perhaps we have not yet discovered the Christ in our midst.
In a few days we will celebrate Christmas. We celebrate not just a past event, but a present reality. Christmas reminds us that we are called to continue the presence and the mission of Jesus in our world - to bring His love and forgiveness to our relationships - to bring His patience and courage to our sufferings and trials - to bring His compassion to the poor and the hungry and the homeless - to bring His total trust in God the Father to the dark moments when we feel abandoned or overwhelmed.
These are the challenges that can enable us to bring Christmas to completion. So, let us continue this work of Christmas each day of the approaching New Year. Let us be God's holy people, and let us be the hopeful light in the darkness, the peacemakers and life-givers in every aspect of our lives.
The mystery of the most profound gift of all brings us to this moment. Our imaginations strain beyond the breaking point as we try to grasp a God who would go to the lengths He has, to gift us with the hope of eternal life that comes through Jesus.
*** Painting - The Annunciation by James Christensen