It is hard to get past the saccharine images of Advent and Christmas. It is serious business for me these liturgical days to set aside false piety for the sake of gritty truth. My life is not glossy, but raw and real. And so I need to find the real Christ, however seemingly impious it might be.
According to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, the Christ child, God made man, was born in poverty, in a barn. There was literally no other place for him to be born—no home, no house of a family member, not even an inn. He was born in an alien town. He was, then, a refugee in a foreign country. He was born into a one-of-a-kind irregular circumstance. And his whole life he was a citizen of an occupied territory.
This speaks to me.
I am from an irregular family.
Many days, I am without what I want, both materially and financially. Having such a large family, and having made the conscious decision to sacrifice much of my own income-earning ability in order to raise them, are choices the effects of which I feel every day.
As a mother, I wonder about what I am providing my children. Is it enough? It never seems enough . . . from their education, to their social opportunities, to their spiritual formation and beyond. Many days, when my child yells out in despair, or when I hear a child crying herself softly to sleep, I think, “I have failed. I have not given her what she needs or longs for.”
Is that not how Mary and Joseph felt in the stable in Bethlehem? Feeling like they are not adequately providing for their child, who is more precious than they can imagine, and yet whom they cannot attend to as they want?
Reflecting on the Gospels, the message that speaks to me is summed up in one word: Providence. God is all good, and he is in charge. Even in the ways that Jesus was born into poverty and into irregular and even dangerous circumstances, God had not abandoned him. Quite the contrary: God’s will was being accomplished. Those circumstances were deliberate both to reveal God’s essence and nature to humanity, and to save us in his love.
The same Christ child born into such vulnerability is the one whom John describes in The Revelation:
I saw one like the Son of Man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest. His head and hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire; his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace; and his voice was like the sound of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and from his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining with full force (Rev 1:13-16).
God is almighty. He does not shun poverty, weakness, and lack; rather, he embraces them, just as Christ on Calvary embraced the cross.
God gives us what we really need. He is shaping us according to his will and his design. We have to let go of our images and let God fill in the vacancies with his own images. In our poverty, he helps us depend on him.
And so, this season, may we beg for the grace, the incredible, other-worldly ability, to say with Mary, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).