May we use these days of Advent to see more clearly

For unto us a child is born… Christmas is a day and season for rejoicing. We celebrate with gifts and music, flowers and lights, family meals and gathering with friends and their friends.

However it is easy to get caught up in the secular swirl of the season and neglect its source and meaning. Doing some last minute shopping a mother suddenly realized that her three year old son had disappeared. In panic she retraced her steps and found him standing with his nose pressed against a frosty window, looking at the manger scene. Hearing his mother’s hysterical call, he turned and shouted with glee, ‘Look Mommy, its Jesus. Baby Jesus in the hay’. His mother jerked him away saying, ‘we don’t have time for that.” We need to take time for Him for He is our hope.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI a few years ago wrote an encyclical letter on hope. In it he suggested that among the reasons there is such sadness, loneliness and division in our world is that we are suffering a crisis of hope. That, he wrote, is in part because people once sought fulfillment in the kingdom of God, but now so many seek fulfillment in the kingdom of man. Fulfillment and meaning are sought in science and technology, political structures, material things and economic security. These are not bad in themselves but he noted: “Day by day, man experiences many greater or lesser hopes, different in kind according to the different periods of his life. Sometimes one of these hopes may appear to be totally satisfying without any need for other hopes. Young people can have the hope of a great and fully satisfying love; the hope of a certain position in their profession, or of some success that will prove decisive for the rest of their lives. When these hopes are fulfilled, however, it becomes clear that they were not, in reality, the whole. It becomes evident that man has need of a hope that goes further. It becomes clear that only something infinite will suffice for him, something that will always be more than he can ever attain.” I can attest to that in my own life. Worldly success did not, does not fulfill. What does?

Perhaps we can learn from Mary and Joseph. Have you ever wondered what was going through their minds that night, far from home, turned away from normal lodging, alone in the quiet pondering the angel’s words to each of them? The miracle of this child’s unique conception and birth must have touched them deeply, lifted their spirits, and given them hope in the midst of uncertainty.

In a new born child we all see hope. This new born child named Jesus came in poverty and inconspicuously. It was as if to say, “the kingdom of man is not enough, we need more, someone more.”

One Christmas Eve a family went to Mass except grandma and her little granddaughter. Knowing the child felt left out, grandma looked at her with great love, gathered her into her arms and told her this story:

“Many years ago a man went out into the dark night to borrow live coals to kindle a fire. He went from house to house calling out, “my wife has given birth to a child. I must make a fire to warm her and the little one.” But the hour was late, either no one heard him or they refused to respond. He walked and walked to no avail. Then he saw off in the distance the glimpse of a fire. He made his way there and found a fire burning brightly. Sheep were sleeping around it, an old shepherd was keeping watch and three dogs were beside him. As the man approached, the dogs stirred. They opened their mouths to bark but no sound came out. Then they ran at him, one attacking his leg, another his hand, the third his throat, but the jaws would not obey and the man was unharmed.

“As he moved forward the sheep still slept, not stirring or running as might be expected. They were so tightly packed that he could not get through, so he walked on and over them. They neither woke nor were harmed. Then the shepherd got up, bearing a cold, hostile look. He seized his shepherd’s staff which had a long spike on the end and threw it at the man. It was right on target but suddenly whizzed to the side and went around the man.

‘“Good fellow’, the man said, ‘please help me. Give me a few burning coals. My wife has given birth and I must make a fire to warm her and the little one.’ The shepherd had a surly look and frowned, but thought about the strange goings on and was afraid to deny the request. He noted that the man had no way to carry the hot coals, so he smugly said, ‘take all you want.’ The man stooped down and gathered the coals into his bare hands without burning himself and walked away.

“The shepherd shouted after him, ‘What kind of night is this, when the dogs do not bite, the sheep are not scared, the staff does not strike, or the fire scorch, what kind of night is this?’

“The shepherd followed the man to a cave where he saw mother and child were sleeping in the cold. The shepherd suddenly felt compassion. ‘That poor innocent child will freeze to death’, he thought. He opened his pack and took out a soft white sheepskin and gave it to the man for the child to be warmed.

“As soon as he showed that he could love, his eyes were opened and he saw what he had not been able to see before. All around him were angels who sang, ‘Tonight the Savior is born who will redeem the world.’ The angels had protected the man. His skepticism and fear gone, the shepherd fell to his knees and thanked God that he could now see what he could not see before, that the hidden was now known to him. A Savior has been born for him, for us all, and the angels rejoice.

“Grandma hugged her granddaughter closer and said, ‘What the shepherd saw we might see too, for every Christmas the angels come back and sing the same song, if only we could see them. All that is needed is for us to care about one another and show it. Then we can see God’s love and glory through the eyes of faith, Jesus, born in Bethlehem.’ The little girl smiled and no longer felt left out, no longer alone.”

God chose to show his love for us and give us hope in the gift of the Christ child. God made himself a newborn to enable us to become more perfect adults. God was wrapped in swaddling clothes to free us from the bonds of death. God came down from heaven to invite us to rise to eternal life. God had no place at the inn so that we might have a room in the Father’s mansion. God became poor so that we might become spiritually rich. Do we see that, understand that, accept that, believe that?

This Christmas we have the chance to see what we could not see before; know who he was and who he is. The Word became flesh, Christ the Savior is born. Christ, our savior is born. He is the infinite hope that fulfills not just that day, but every Christmas day and every day.

May we use these days of Advent to see more clearly that for unto us a child is born.

Merry Christmas.

Bishop Swain's Column, December 2018