Christmas is drawing near friends and during this final week, as throughout Advent, we are invited to think of our Loving God sending Jesus to be one-with-us—Emmanuel. One of the images that is always raised is that of Jesus, as our king. Let’s look at that image for a bit. Jesus is king, yet not king, as we, or people then, knew a king to be—part of the reason that I always encourage us as a community to consider Jesus as brother and friend as opposed to “king” at the end of the Church Year. God turns things on their head in Jesus. Our notion of a king is about royalty—royalty is born of royalty—but not so here. Mary is a teenage girl—Joseph, a common laborer and not Jesus’ biological father. Yet, these two common folk are asked to give Jesus physical life and care, and they do, giving everyone present, then and now, a whole new view of royalty.
We can think of all the young parents we know, especially those who are parents for the first time. Everything is so new and the fragility of a newborn is so evident—they are so dependent on their parents for everything. When we think of Mary and Joseph; we have to believe that they too worked together to care for their fragile, little Jesus who came to them in somewhat of dire circumstances according to the gospel account.
I think we sometimes reflect on the Christmas crib scene, the simple beauty, the divine connection and we forget the purely human elements which make the story so rich—the couple who had to be a couple of love to bring this miracle of love about. Added to that, they must have had a great deal of faith, trusting that their God would be with them.
So, royalty in the instance of Mary and Joseph is more about that which we find within them as opposed to what we find without. God, in Jesus, is always about showing us something new—a new way of thinking, a new way of being.
We can hardly look at how our God chose to come among us and not marvel. Not in glory, but in simplicity. Not in splendor, but in poverty. Not in power, but in weakness. Looking at this we must make the connection that Jesus came for the simple, the poor, the weak, proclaiming a message of love, hope and joy. And whether we consider ourselves part of the middle class or above, Jesus still comes for each one of us because we are all, at times, poor and weak, whether it is in body, mind or spirit.
The readings today give us this juxtaposition, that our God comes for all of us—in our poorness—in whatever way. Isaiah’s reading speaks of the king, Ahaz of the House of David. The Southern Kingdom of Judah is being severely threatened at this time and Isaiah is speaking a word of hope, as all good prophets do, encouraging the king and all the people to be about “tranquil waiting,” not about terror and fright. Isaiah goes on throughout his book proclaiming that faith alone in our loving God can save us. Our sign will be a child who will be called Emmanuel—God-with-us.
We are called then to “tranquil waiting” the prophet Isaiah tells us—this opposed to living in fear. The topic of fear is taken up in the gospel from Matthew as Joseph struggles with the purely human decision to take Mary as his wife even though the child she carries is not his. A purely human dilemma! Another reason that we have to believe that this young couple loved each other very much—Mary trusting that Joseph would understand her “yes” to God even though she was already committed to him. We see Joseph, struggling in a purely human way, with his continual “yes” to Mary, given her circumstances.
But the gospel tells us that the heavenly visitor told Joseph to, “not fear.” I think each of us, in our walk of faith must hear the angel’s words too, “fear not,” when life happens: illness, death, misunderstandings with friends, family, job loss, doubt and depression.
We should look to this young couple, so prominent in our scriptures of Advent and Christmas time and have hope that life does continue on and that we won’t be alone in our struggles. I think it is important for us to wrap our minds and hearts around this story of the teenage girl and the laborer—Mary and Joseph, and let them come alive for us.
We spoke earlier of “royalty and I have suggested that the royalty was more from within than from without—to look at the crib scene, one wouldn’t think “royalty” at first glance. But God had something else in mind—to have Jesus not only come into humanity, but to come in utter simplicity, humbleness and as an initial object of scorn through his parents’ assumed act. Jesus then becomes someone that each of us, in whatever trouble we may find ourselves, can go to, because of the humble way that he chose to come into our world.
Earlier I mentioned my belief that Mary and Joseph had to have been a couple in love with each other to ultimately make the decisions they did, and to put their lives in peril even, to keep the child safe once he was born and they were forced to run for their lives to save him from the presumed king, Herod who so feared losing his power that he killed all the innocent children that he saw as likely rivals to his throne.
Faith, coupled with love can do great things—think of all the times in your life friends when you were sure there was something that you could not face, could not accept, but really had no choice but to face. You managed to get through whatever ordeal it was and you probably would say that faith helped you to do it! You may have even been aware that you had a strength beyond yourself. That was your heart and spirit loving and giving beyond your own need to be fulfilled. It was a life-force greater than this world. It was God-with-us—Emmanuel.
As you pray before the crib this Christmas Season, you might want to look into your life and find one unsettled issue there that you could bring before this Holy Family of love and faith and ask for the strength to do your part to bring Emmanuel—God-with-us to that place in order that in the New Year, more love and less strife can be present.
At Christmas time; we will be celebrating this God who wanted us to so clearly know that we are loved as to become one-with-us in Jesus. We also celebrate the fact that Jesus not only became vulnerable this first time, but continually is ready and present to us—all we have to do is ask. Christmas finally calls us to the realization that Jesus will come a final time to bring each of us home.
For now though, it is sufficient to place ourselves, our hearts and minds into the story of a young couple who had great faith and great love and were willing to share that love for something greater than themselves. This is the Christmas story. It is a simple, yet profound message that engages people of all backgrounds and at all socio-economic levels. I believe this is why, amid all the rush that this season can bring, that many people love it just the same. I believe hope springs eternal within each of us, that love will prevail, that the best that we humans can give and be, is possible, now, and always!
We began this reflection speaking about kings and indicating that Jesus would be a king different than we expect. Jesus will turn our concepts of “right” living on their heads at times—his way of being “king” will always be about the kingliness within—not the pomp and circumstance without. Where and when, people move out of faith and love and show it in the works of mercy, justice, compassion and self-giving for others—God will be there; Jesus our king will be present.
In that light, I wanted to share with you the informational meeting that Robert and I attended this past week for the Winona Community Warming Center where 25 people signed up to assist in covering the night hours that will allow the center to be open and give shelter from the cold to 10 homeless individuals each night. Our parish is helping the endeavor additionally through material and financial gifts. Thanks to all of you who contributed. This is the type of “royalty”–from the inside, that our brother, Jesus calls us to in our lives. Amen? Amen!