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  • Writer's pictureFr. Gustavo

"Signs of the Good News"


Young mother with a baby boy

“And this shall be a sign unto you”

 

In our sanitized and so far-removed story of the Nativity, it is difficult to imagine what was the real manger scene.  Let me suggest, it is not what we love to see or even to imagine about the manger in a little town. 

 

And no – I am not talking about Rudolph, the Elves, Santa, and Christmas Trees… only.

 

I’d say that the only way to begin to approach the reality of Christmas Night two thousand years ago is to go and visit a working farm.  Or stables filled with mooing cows.  Or a horse-pen.  In other words, a place where the smell of incense and myrrh is the farthest that would come to mind.

 

But let’s dig a little bit further. First, the Census.

 

Did you complete the last 2020 Census?  And how about the 2000?  I do remember our first census, in 1990.  We had to fill a simple but fairly long form.  Eventually, perhaps a year later, because our household (Or our neighborhood?) was selected, we had to supply more information.  More paperwork but no big deal.

 

Eventually, we moved to an on-line form.  But here is the thing.  Do you remember when was that you filled your last Census form?  What were you doing?

 

But a census two thousand years ago was not a question of just filling forms or counting heads and writing the names of those who were living under Rome.  First, every five years all the families had to go back to their place of birth to be counted and their property assessed. 

 

And from what we know about the tax collectors of the day, people would have loved to have an IRS audit rather than to deal with the collectors.  Indeed, they were there to collect.

 

So, Mary and Joseph not only had to deal with leaving home and their belongings but, ahead of time, knowing they were going to be passed through the wringer to get the last penny out of them.  And with Mary in her last month.  And in winter.

 

Then Bethlehem.

 

I am sure that we all love family.  And those of us, with small families – like myself – miss the opportunity to have met uncles and aunts, cousins, nieces, and even their in-laws!

 

I am not going to ask to raise your hands, but I wonder how many of you would have liked to have about twenty or thirty family or even forty guests staying at home for as long that it could take.  Including people that you didn’t know existed.  And dealing with taxes.  And in the middle of winter.

 

What it seems odd in the Christmas narrative is that we are told that there was there was no room for them at the familial house – The guest room had already been taken over. 

 

We don’t know anything about the family dynamics, but for some reason, Mary and Joseph were not in the priority list.  Had the family some questions about Mary’s baby?  We don’t know.  What we do know is that Mary and Joseph had to go to the animal’s shed.

 

Which once again brings me back to the question if the Nativity scene is as aseptic and pristine as we love to imagine.  And, right then and there, it was where Mary had her first baby.

 

This morning I was talking about God’s timing – or lack thereof, it seems.

 

It was in the midst of social and personal dislocation that God made his appearance.  And yes, there was some magic in the air – The angels singing.  But they were not caroling Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus, but some shepherds somewhere in the middle of nowhere.

 

If you recall what I told you last Sunday about Hanukkah’s expectations, God decided to go small.  A baby in a shed.  A baby?

 

As we know from our experience, the pristine peace and harmony of the Creation’s Garden is long gone.  Since then, there is always dislocation, anxiety, insecurity, and even despair.

 

No, we do not need to move back to our birth places every five years.  The rapid social changes take care of our trips.  We stay in the same place, but the world changes.  Do you remember typewriters? 

 

Those of us who have been blessed with grandchildren cannot imagine ourselves dealing with parents and grandparents as our younger generation does.  

Being connected.  Or perhaps being hyperconnected.  With phone calls, messages, posts, updates, news, and notifications poking us day and night. 

 

And the list may go on and on.

 

But here is the good news.  God is not afraid of changes, chances, or dislocations. 

 

In the words of Archbishop Justin Welby, “In the greatest crisis of all, the separation of human beings from God, His answer was to make himself as vulnerable as a baby, to come to us in human form, share our suffering, bear the weight of our wrongdoing and offer us the hope of life. Whatever the crises are, in Christ they are transformed.”

 

And while the world pushes us to super-size everything, God is not afraid of going small and fragile -- like a Baby.  If as to tell us that He knows to feel small, fragile, and dependent on others.  Or at the mercy of the changes and changes of the present world.

 

My friends, God is with us.  We have not been left alone.  But there is catch, if you will.  Don’t look for God as a messiah wannabe who will give you whatever you fancy whenever you fancy.  Look for God in the small. 

 

In the small and secret sanctuary of your soul.  In the smiling eyes of someone serving you at the corner store.  In the few minutes of peace and inner peace that you enjoy – even if they are scarce.  In the fellowship of brothers and sisters in church, even if it is every now and then.  In the words of encouragement that sometimes come out of thin air.  In the small piece of holy bread and the sip of holy wine.  In the face of the Holy Child in the picture-perfect nativity scene that we so much love.

 

They all are going to be signs of the Good News. You should only be on the look for them.

 

For unto us a Child is born,

Unto us a Son is given;

(…)

And His name shall be called

Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

 

May the Holy Child of Bethlehem fill you with love and hope, and the assurance of God’s eternal mercy and grace.  Amen.


Fr. Gustavo

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