The Journey to the Manger
We have now entered the season of the church year known as Advent. Advent is a time of self-reflection and preparation prior to Christmas, the day of Jesus’ birth. It is a time of great anticipation and excitement. All very good, but the danger is that in all the eagerness, we can begin celebrating Christmas before it is even on the horizon.
Of course, the commercial drivers of our economically-obsessed world draw us in, because Christmas is a real money spinner. The earlier the money starts rolling in the better. The trouble is, it rips the heart out of the season as the deeper meaning and joy are turned into excesses and personal over-indulgence as the profit margins of the big corporations swell.
But the real danger is that, if we fail to properly prepare through the season of Advent, then Christmas loses its deep ability to transform our souls – all we get is some superficial fluffiness that will be long since departed once January arrives.
To take faith seriously requires asking some really searching questions of oneself. It means looking at the very deep parts of ourselves, even those parts we have been hiding for years. Rather than speaking sweet-nothings into our ears, Jesus speaks eternal truths. He doesn’t tell us what we want to hear, he tells us what we need to hear. To follow Jesus means a complete change of lifestyle and that change is ongoing throughout our life. Just when we think we have nailed it, so God reveals to us new parts of ourselves that need the corners knocking off. We know somehow that the person God is calling is the real ‘me’, but we fear facing up to the false parts, the parts we so often revel and delight in.
The Christmas story cuts right to the heart of what it means to be human. It reveals psychological and spiritual truth that is impossible to run away from. Think of the people who recognise Jesus’ true divine identity first.
His mother – a pregnant single teenager from a faithful but poor family, only married to her betrothed weeks before the birth. The husband is not the boy’s real father. But, there is no doubt that Jesus (God in human form) transforms her whole being as she becomes the mother of God and in turn now mothers humanity for an eternity through her Son.
Shepherds in the field – uneducated, simple of living (and mind?) and outcasts from society. Dirty, poor, only good for chasing off wolves. And yet it is this simple living and undistracted life that enables them to see Jesus for who he is, God’s Son,
Wise Men from the East – foreigners with strange customs. Feared by the native people of the land, open to false accusations and little respected. The king uses his power over them to try and trick them into being his spies. But their preparation and hope leading up to them spotting the star, mixed with their vulnerability of travelling through a strange land, help them to see this Jesus with clarity, instantly recognising him as a gift from God and giving him gifts in return.
King Herod – a jealous, judgemental and manipulative king who sees the baby Jesus as a threat. His fear and anger blind him from seeing the goodness and the wider truth. He too recognises who Jesus is, but is too afraid of the change Jesus will bring to his comfortable world, and so he refuses to move closer to God. Selfishly worried only for his own status and earthly power, he commits terrible atrocities, all the while turning his soul black.
As we gaze into the crib on Christmas morning, we find a little child’s kindly, loving eyes gazing back at us. This child can be a gateway into a living hope that transforms lives and whole societies. The Christ-child, Jesus, imparts such goodness that it can cleanse the depths of our souls. This gentle gift from God has the power to heal us. We must not be too afraid to move closer. Do not fear what he may find and bring out into the open in order to heal it. Do not turn away and return to self-destructive ways.
If we can bear to let him in, things become so very different. A cleansed soul is a freed soul – able to live in truth and love. But this deep healing and joy doesn’t happen with a fleeting glimpse once or twice a year, it requires commitment to the continual journey. This Advent, be careful of jumping straight into Christmas without first walking the self-reflective way of the season. Take time to properly prepare, though self-examination and prayer and come one second past midnight on the morning of Christ’s Mass, the joy of the season will truly be yours. All the burdens of the soul will be lifted, the darkness that so often overshadows the vision will be removed and the fear that clings so closely will be banished from the heart.
May the Holy Family in poverty by the manger inspire you this Christmas and may the simplicity of a baby born to transform and save the world be ever your strength and guide.
With every blessing this Advent and Christmas,