God is with us!

Santa ClauseON THE DAY AFTER CHRISTMAS, trees, boxes, and torn up wrappings are already on the sidewalk ready to be picked up by the trash collectors. Christmas is over for people who have been celebrating since Halloween or Thanksgiving Day, or Black Friday, Cyber Monday, or whatever day selected to celebrate the season.

Winter Soltice-Sunrise at Stonehenge

The Winter Solstice – Sunrise at Stonehenge

Of course, we all know this December date, picked in the early centuries of the Church’s life to counter the pagan rituals associated with the winter solstice, is likely not the day Jesus was born. Some argue that Jesus had to be born in the spring, like April or May. I know of one group that insists his birthday is August 24—that makes him a Virgo in the astrological calendar. Much of what we do during this season is associated pagan tradition than with the Gospel stories.

Giotto_-_Scrovegni_-_-18-_-_Adoration_of_the_Magi

Adoration of the Magi by Giotti

Nevertheless, the Winter Solstice and the end of the calendar year is a good time to contemplate the Good News of the Christmas Story. The star of Bethlehem brightens our cold and dreary days. The beauty of the story warms our hearts in the cold dead of winter. If we observed Jesus’ birthday in August, most wouldn’t pay much attention. We would all be on vacation at the lake, the mountains, the beach, or Disney World.

Let us take this time in the dead of winter to ponder the good news of the potential for peace, the potential for personal and universal reconciliation. Let us take the time for God’s message to collide into the social structure of our lives and open our hearts to the promise of salvation.

Because of the trivialization of the Christmas story, many often think of Mary as a young woman who has had a painless childbirth, Joseph as a prop, and Jesus only as a baby.

Because of the trivialization of the Christmas story, many often think of Mary as a young woman who has had a painless childbirth, Joseph as a prop, and Jesus only as a baby. The Gospel stories of the birth of Jesus tell a story of real people involved in real life issues of poverty, power politics, and oppression to the point that the Holy Family will become refugees.

 

nativity icon

Icon of the Nativity – Notice Mary is lying down

The Advent focus on the coming of the Christ in glory, John-the-Baptist crying out as “one in the wilderness,” and the story of Mary appropriately prepares us for Christmas. The commercials selling everything from Mercedes-Benz automobiles to toilet paper makes us anxious and feeling deprived. Had we spent time observing Advent, Christmas would be more enjoyable and uplifting for everyone.

 

While I was thinking about the advent stories in the Gospels, people were

romano-nativity

The Nativity in Western Medieval Art

having Christmas parties and pageants, and Nativity tableaus. A few argued about the meaning of Christmas, the “war” on Christmas, and whether religious scenes and symbols should be on courthouse lawns.

Something remarkable is happening in the Gospel stories of Advent. The coming Messiah, the Christ, is not coming to be a king as David was king; this child in Mary’s womb is coming to upset the world order and to change the balance of power favoring compassion and love. This child is the Word of God!

Because of all the “stuff” of the “holiday season,” most people miss hearing the beautiful story of God intervening in human history—what I call the Advent Adventure. Sadly, for so many Christmas becomes a chore and many are exhausted by all the Yule Tide cheer by New Year’s Day.

Because of all the “stuff” of the “holiday season,” most people miss hearing the beautiful story of God intervening in human history

At the Annunciation, when Gabriel tells her that she is going to be the mother of Jesus, Mary’s journey has only begun. Her journey will take her to the agony of Golgotha and the ecstasy of Pentecost. Probably many do not think about Mary’s Journey continuing past Christmas Day.

Because poor Joseph, the prop in the Nativity sets, probably procrastinated at some point or didn’t want to ask for directions, he and Mary arrive in Bethlehem too late to find lodgings. Quartered in a cave used to house animals the Holy Family waits for daylight. While settling into their temporary overnight quarters, the mysteriously conceived child arrives. The baby is born without the assistance of a midwife and in the non-sterile environment of hay and animal waste and odors—conditions must have been terrible. Most likely, it was not a silent night.

…if we read the story without a Christmas card vision, the Christmas story in the Gospels is one of real life happening to real people.

Therefore, if we read the story without a Christmas card vision, the Christmas story in the Gospels is one of real life happening to real people. It is not a fairy tale with a “happily-ever-after” ending. Also, it is not a story about a baby in a manger. It is the story of the beginning of the end of God’s plan of reconciliation and salvation; that is, the story that ends when we individually allow Jesus to become real in our souls and imaginations.

Merry Christmas, therefore, joyfully means the Word of God is among us.

Merry Christmas, therefore, joyfully means the Word of God is among us. The Christmas story tells us of that “thin line” between God and the world. Before Gabriel announced to Mary that she was to be the Mother of God on the earth, God remained distant and cloaked in rules. In an incalculable instant the Word of God was and is with us—as soon as Jesus begins to grow in Mary’s womb, God is with us. God is with us, but often we cannot know that fundamental truth until we observe Advent, quiet the noise of Christmas, and we invite Jesus into our heads and hearts.

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