by Miriam Hogan, O.C.D.
Do you remember the ways that we used to celebrate Christmas? When you first looked into your own reflection on the shiny tree ornaments, do you recall also seeing in the background the reflection of another person who might even have been holding you in their arms at the time? The joys of light, love, and laughter can call to mind a gentle warmth in the midst of some of the otherwise harsh cold winter months of our lives. Now as Christmas approaches it seems good to once again focus and to refocus on the mystery that holds such a special place in our hearts and memories.
Central to the mystery of the first Christmas and of every Christmas is Love Incarnate. The birth of Jesus Christ into our own time1 invites us to sing and dance like the angels and the shepherds and to deepen our own love for God and for all that God loves.
Further, the nativity scene is one of the best images to help us focus on the child. In almost all of our different cultural and artistic expressions the center position is reserved for the child. Mary, Joseph, Shepherds, the sheep, the oxen, etc., are all turned toward this "baby wrapped in swaddling clothes" and lying "in a manger." (cf. Lk 2:12) The star is usually directly overhead and the wise men from the East are shown making their way towards him or having arrived are shown on their knees worshiping the newborn king. (cf. Matt 2:11)
As children, most of us remember arranging and rearranging the figures to better display our own preferences and taste. Some of us even added straws to the manger for good deeds we had done during advent. St. Francis’s “plan formulated in the thirteenth century to remind people of the real reason we celebrate Christmas”2 had taken root and expression in our lives. I can even remember my parents driving us to a monastery where we could see a life size nativity scene with real live animals.
Yet, even then we realized that Christmas was more than merely an external celebration. The Sisters of Mercy made us keenly aware that we needed to invite the baby Jesus into our hearts and in our own ways I think each of us did this.
Once again Christ is knocking at the door of our hearts, and we seek to let him into our lives. We do this knowing that those people that have previously incarnated the Love of God for us have over the years increased our understanding and knowledge of both the new born king and the whole of the Christ mystery. They have helped to sharpen our focus and deepen our love.
Our Own Humanity
To return to the Christmas ornaments, we see ourselves (our own humanity) in the reflections. This humanity3 is brought into an even sharper focus as we grow in understanding and appreciation of the Incarnation. We also delight in the reflections of others knowing that they are made in the image and likeness of God. Further as philosophers like Hegel have noted we develop our own personality best by having ourselves reflected back to us by a brother. Christmas calls us first to gaze upon Christ our brother and to let Him transform us in Love.
When Jesus first opened His eyes and tried to focus them he beheld the tender eyes of his mother Mary looking at him “with love beyond all telling.” The sacred story is both personal and universal.
Now we pray that once again we will incarnate and adore the Christ in our hearts and in our present lives. Keeping focused on what matters most…we rejoice once again with the angels.
1To those who open their heart to this "baby wrapped in swaddling clothes" and lying "in a manger" (cf. Lk 2:12), he offers the possibility of seeing with new eyes the realities of every day. He can taste the power of the interior fascination of God's love and is able to transform even sorrow into joy. (Benedict XVI –Angelus- St. Peter’s Square-Fourth Sunday of Advent, 24 December 2006)
3"It is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of humanity truly becomes clear." (Gaudium et Spes, No. 22).
Glory to God in the Highest,
and on earth,
Peace to all of Good Will!
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