In these last few days before the feast of Christmas, the Gospel focuses on a young girl who was to become the mother of God. It tells how Mary's dreams for her life were shattered in an instant by the visit of an angel. But the Gospel also 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. Like Mary, our own personal history becomes sacred history.
Mary's presence in 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.
The work of Advent is for us to discover the Christ who is truly among us. 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.
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. This story enables us to learn again to recognize the presence of God in the ordinary people and things around us...in the innocence of our infants, in the questioning of our seven year olds, in the energy and restlessness of our teenagers, in the rapture of lovers, in the courage and generosity of the young-married, in the freedom and dedication of the single adults, in the wisdom and patience of parents, in the peaceful strength of the aging, and in the quiet resignation of the suffering.
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 infant Jesus silently proclaimed this message by the circumstances of His birth - poverty, powerlessness, and simplicity. But it is the God-With-Us who lives the message, challenging political and religious systems, embracing radical poverty of spirit, and reaching out with compassion and liberation for all the oppressed.
It is this God-With-Us who stirs the profound longings in all of our hearts for true freedom, justice and peace, for ourselves, and for all of our brothers and sisters across the world.
And now that this fullness has come, it is our responsibility to unwrap the incredible gifts that the human family has received and of which we are now the stewards. Together we rejoice in our God, who shares in our humanity, who calls us to Himself, who brings us a different kind of Peace.
This is the real meaning of 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.
As with Mary, our faith journey to the feet of the infant God-made-man in the manger always leads us to a choice. We are faced with many roads along the way: the road of discipleship, the road to Calvary, the road to resurrection and the empty tomb. These are the choices that can enable us to bring Christmas to completion.
Let us continue this work of Christmas each day of the approaching New Year; let us be God's holy people; let us be light in darkness, peacemakers and life-givers, in every aspect of our lives.
My prayers for you during this holy season; May His Light shine through your eyes and His strength burn strong in your hearts.