A call to re-examine what we really wish for, as we prepare for Christmas. Do we need that latest MP3 player or DVD; what does it really mean to “live well” in the light of our faith? Use or adapt this reflection as you prefer.
Advent is known as a time of waiting, a time of preparation. We are aware, as Christians, that what we are waiting for and celebrating is something quite amazing, something almost too great to comprehend – God becoming human.
Yet what amazes me also is the way God became human, not only by being born in a humble stable but by continuing, as an adult, to identify himself with the poor and marginalised. And he identified with them not just by walking alongside them, but also by becoming one of them – becoming someone who was despised, misunderstood, dependent on others for food and for friendship, and paradoxically someone who was so threatening that he had to be killed.
Very often Christmas carols do not encompass this reality. We hear about Jesus the baby “asleep on the hay”, but this baby becomes, in his adulthood, someone who is very much awake to the pain and brokenness of this world. There is one carol, however, which I believe to be Quaker in origin, which does seem to embody this truth. I quote:
“What have they done with you child of the manger, child of my childhood and seal of my soul?”
“They have carved me in stone, O child of my passion and drowned me in dogma and trammelled my will. They have wrapped me in tinsel, and sold me on counters, tuning my song to the ring of the till.”
“How can I find you, O child of the manger, child of my childhood and seal of my soul?”
“You will find me as ever, with blind and with beggar, the hungry and hopeless, the broken in heart. At home with the homeless, I dine with the outcast, and if you receive me, then there I shall be.” **
So Advent is, for me, not only a time to celebrate Christ’s birth, but also to celebrate the person he became, the example which he set, the truth which he embodied that we are also called to follow.
At a time when society is pleading with us to have more, buy more, consume more, we are asked to empty ourselves and this, I think, is for two reasons. The first is that we need to create room inside us to receive the word of God. Secondly, we are asked to enter into solidarity with others, particularly, perhaps, those who live in poverty. I think of Alphonsine, aged sixteen, from Rwanda, when she says:
“I like Christmas time best of all, that’s my favourite time of year. We didn’t get any presents last year but I like going around to other friends’ houses, that’s why it’s the best time of year.”
Her words humble me; they make me look afresh at what Christmas is about, what I am celebrating and how I celebrate. Her words remind me that friendship, community and hospitality are what is important, not the latest CD, DVD or TV. They remind me that Jesus came to be a light for the world and we are called to do the same.
We are called, especially at this time of new birth, of incarnation, to embody the spirit of the Beatitudes as Jesus did:
“We are called to be ‘good news to the poor’ in a society where millions lack the bare necessities of life; to bring ‘liberty to captives’ when so many are enslaved by poverty, addiction, ignorance, discrimination, violence, or disabling conditions; to bring ‘new sight to the blind’ in a culture where the excessive pursuit of power or pleasure can spiritually blind us to the dignity and rights of others; to ‘set the downtrodden free’ in communities where crime, racism, family disintegration and economic and moral forces leave people without real hope.” ***
This Advent, let us prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ with joy, knowing that God loved us so much that he gave us that which was most precious to him. But let us also keep in our hearts and minds the example that Jesus gave us, in particular in his love for others, so that we may be people who, in the words of Jeremiah, “do what is right and just in the land.”
And lastly, let us remember those across the world who will not be celebrating Christmas with expensive presents and fine food, but who will, like Alphonsine, be visiting friends and family with gratitude, and acknowledge to ourselves that, in her example, we may have much to learn.
** “Sing High with the Holly and Low with the Berry”: words by A.J.Lewis and music by Michael Lehr
*** Quote from a document published by the US Bishops in 1993