Christmas just won’t be the same this year. How many of us have heard those words lately? As a result of an invisible virus, people will not be getting together with extended family and friends to celebrate Christmas. Who would have thought that shoppers would be more concerned about finding toilet paper and basic food items, than finding the “perfect Christmas gift” for someone who is special to them? How many more can’t even think about Christmas shopping because they are currently out of work? And dare I ask if some people only want the long-awaited vaccine, while for others the word vaccine represents all types of suspicion about certain groups or organizations who are trying to take over the world?
So many elements of the difficult circumstances of today’s world were evident in the time when the Blessed Virgin Mary received, with humility and joy, the awesome news that she would conceive a child through the power of the Holy Spirit. That this child was to be known as Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.” Mary had little opportunity to rejoice, even though that was her first reaction. Her life was soon upended when just at the time she was to have this baby, she and Joseph had to travel to Bethlehem for the census. So much for government making life difficult!
The rest of the story of the birth of the Lord Jesus, as you know, is a mixture of hardship and rejoicing: no room at the inn; baby is born in a stable; dirty shepherds are the first to visit; astrologers come with gifts that were not on the shopping list; Joseph had to literally grab Mary and the baby and run for their lives into Egypt to escape the jealous King Herod; their experience of the first Christmas resulted in them becoming homeless refugees. Yet the Gospel tells us that “Mary treasured all these things and reflected on them in her heart” (Lk 2:1).
One of my favorite Christmas stories is about a family that decorated their house. It was an all-day activity, both inside and outside. When they were finally finished and sat down for supper that evening, one of the children noticed that there was no Baby Jesus in their manger scene. An elder sibling reported that it was not in the box. No one could find it.
Later that evening, the 8 year old son in that family came down the stairs and went over to the family manger. His parents thought he was saying a prayer. He quietly left. As the parents went to turn off the lights, they noticed that the boy had placed a small Crucifix in the crib. The next morning at breakfast a family discussion ensued about the missing baby Jesus and how it seemed so out of place to see the adult crucified Jesus there. The 8 year old who had put it there simply said, “Isn’t that why Jesus came?”
In the confusion, antagonism, alienation, fear, anxiety and distress that so many are experiencing these days, we need the joy and the hope that was born into the world in a manger in Bethlehem. Even more so, we need the power of the redemption that the Lord Jesus brought through his suffering, death, and resurrection. If you are trying to grasp how that can happen in the circumstances of our world today, ask the Blessed Virgin Mary how she could find anything to treasure in the midst of her family’s hardship. Her answer would be one word: Jesus; which means “God saves.”
With prayers and best wishes for a Blessed Christmas and a Better New Year,