The three magi had left the manger, and now we see the Holy Family in a run from Herod. The idyllic peace of the crib is suddenly over. From this moment, God’s plan starts to unfold. Jesus with his parents goes to Egypt. With this, Jesus was recapitulating the history of His people. Their flight repeats the captivity of the Jews in Egypt, before the joy of the promise of the New Covenant. So, the Messiah’s work starts with a humble origin - but what a growth and triumph will follow!
The story which started with the birth and the crib is the story of transformation. Members of the Holy Family are transformed, and grow in their care for Jesus, the son of God. Mary and Joseph grow and flourish as caring parents. ‘Get up, take the child and his mother with you, and escape into Egypt, and stay there until I tell you, because Herod intends to search for the child and do away with him.’
So, ‘our journey with the crib’, the crib of Jesus, is about our transformation. Joseph and Mary’s prompt response is to inspire us. That instant response of Joseph shows how the crib inspires. Our care for the life of God in us, purifies us. The quick response of care by Joseph and Mary, its quickness invites us to remove the hindrances to our search for God. Their unselfishness teaches us how not to be full of ourselves. For if one is full of himself or herself, it is difficult to find space for God. On Christmas eve we turned towards the crib, with the Three Wise men we turned towards the star, and now we follow with our attention the Holy Family. The ‘crib’, as it were, requires us to turn away from ourselves…
Their journey to the unknown Egypt is a journey of faith. We can imagine, and we cannot be mistaken, how Joseph and Mary grew in prayer. The journey of the crib thought them to affirm God’s providence how he cared for them. They set an example for us. Following them, our task is to affirm the activity of God in his creation and seek God in our world. We are called to seek his providence in our life and witness to it.
The ‘crib’, the story of the Holy Family, make us face a more general call. It is about our prayer life. There is a need for growth and development in the life of prayer. And this is the practical teaching of the Holy Family. Regardless that one is an introvert or extrovert type (Jung’s typology), ‘we should begin our prayer life by concentrating on our strengths (the intellectual turning to meditation, the more emotional person to affective prayer, an extrovert and active person to charity). Then we need to develop those sides of our nature which will become negative if they are repressed. [In other words, then we have to work on those aspects of our personality, where we are less developed, or not gifted at all.] In this way, we may grow in faith.’ Mary overcome her fear of the angel, Joseph became trusting in God’s guidance.
So let us become part of the Holy Family in a special way, in terms of joining their prayer life, and growth in prayer. Let us be guided by their example and ask ourselves: what are the ways that I can pray best? And what are those areas, where I can pray (I can love) least?
Tonight, we arrive to the same place with God at the same time. The only difference is that we arrive from darkness. God joins us from his home, his eternal brightness and dazzling grace. Saint Augustine of Hippo names this difference in a brave way: ‘Eternal death would have awaited you had he not been born in time!... Let us joyfully celebrate the coming of our salvation and redemption. Let us celebrate the holy day on which the great eternal day came into this, our so short and temporal day.’
This great contrast, our arrival from sin, and God’s arrival from eternal Love, merges into something wonderful. There is nothing so peaceful, there is nothing so beautiful, there is nothing so purely joyful than Christmas eve. We adore the beauty of the crib, the lights of the Christmas tree, the beauty that God’s arrival with Jesus’ birth creates.
Christmas has a secret. God’s arrival is not a passive one. It is not like that a meteorite of Beauty and love hits the earth and creates a dazzling beauty. The secret is that God in order to create this beauty and new life, needed our arrival too. He needs every single person, with their joys and shadows, pains and prayers to arrive. At the heart of our human joy which Christmas creates, there is a heartbeat of Christmas. Yes, there is a heartbeat of Christmas. And this heartbeat comes from the heartbeat of the newborn baby. The candle lights, the decorations of the Christmas tree, the joy of our gifts echoes one single truth. That is why this Baby came: ‘Today is the day on which the sins of the world are wiped away…’ ‘Today is the day on which the sins of the world are wiped away…’ Beat after beat, grace upon grace! What a wonderful news that we can celebrate! As Isaiah says, ‘You have made their gladness greater, you have made their joy increase!’
Today we are given a present. A message. What is it? Today God makes us a special offer, which is up to us if we live with it. We adults often feel unprepared for Christmas. Today it does not matter. Christmas is a special time - in which we can start over again our unfinished, even non-started preparation. The closer God, the more support he gives us. Let us commit ourselves to this wonderful offer, to this life changing offer. It is not new year promises that matter and are important. What is real is our new Christmas promise. If we do it through prayer, praying regularly, we can break the deadlocks in our lives. New directions will emerge, new strength. Let us be showered on by God’s holy support. Let it be our sustaining support: ‘For there is a child born for us, a son given to us,…and this is the name they give him: Wonder-Counsellor, Mighty-God, Eternal-Father, Prince of Peace.’ ‘O sing a new song to the Lord, sing to the Lord all the earth!’
Let us celebrate the arrival of the Kingdom of God! (Mt 11:2-11)
‘Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near.’ (Phil 4:4-5) Today’s service begins with what sounds like a command. Rejoice! Indeed, the third Sunday of Advent commands us: ‘Gaudete!’ ‘Rejoice!’. Whatever happens in our life, even if burdens are dominating it, today we are ‘ordered’ to rejoice!
What is this interruption, and what is its significance in our lives? Sometimes, despite one’s best efforts, we experience a stalemate in life. We just cannot make a breakthrough into the desired direction. We can’t change a situation. We can’t get rid of a negative thought. We can’t change a bad habit. It is in these moments, that we have to submit ourselves to divine order of rejoicing.
Gaudete Sunday invites us to this life-changing wisdom. Not only as individuals, but also, as a community are called to be refreshed from this resource. That is why in the Gospel we hear about miracles associated with the Messianic age. Go‘and tell John what you hear and see; the blind see again, and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised to life and the Good News is proclaimed to the poor; and happy is the man who does not lose faith in me.’’
If we absorb and breath in this joyful presence of God, we will understand the most challenging verse in today’s Gospel. ‘I tell you solemnly, of all the children born of women, a greater than John the Baptist has never been seen; //:yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he is://.’ Of all who had heralded the coming Messiah John the Baptist ‘was the greatest, for he was nearest to Him. But the least who would experience the full power of the king would be greater than he’ in closeness to Jesus. (The Pickering Bible Commentary for Today)
It is this closeness to our powerful Messiah which we celebrate on Gaudete Sunday together. So let us faithfully recall those moments when we experienced, even though for a brief moment, the full power of the Kingdom of God. Let us recall yesterday’s Christmas Bazaar, the miracle, that through your service, God’s love attracted so many people to come in. People did not want to leave… Kids played together in excitement. The church, through your love, became the embassy of God’s Love.
Let us keep recalling these moments of rejoicing in our personal lives too. When were you caught up in Jesus’ wonderful kingdom of faith? Remember those moments when your heart was lifted up into that joy which only God can give? Let this recollection, and even more important, our renewed commitment to work on these coming moments, be our preparation for Christmas! When it is indeed true that ‘happy is the man who does not lose faith in me.’ Let us not lose those moments!
Enabled by Christmas (1:18-24)
This is often our experience that we arrive to Christmas unprepared. As adults, in particular, we seem to lose our ways and focus. The few days left of advent is indeed short. Yet by our readings in these last days, we are encouraged: it is never too late. The closer our God is, the closer his arrival, the more lavishly he showers us with his love and friendship. The judge of the world, Christ, in his second coming, just as at his first arrival, sends before him a wave of special grace.
It is striking to see how this enabling took place in the life of Mary and Joseph. For let us note that apart from the divine activity in conception, Christ’s birth was completely normal. He was not conceived until Mary was married. Joseph was Jesus’ father in every way except procreation. That is why their response to the arrival of Jesus (Messiah!) is an encouragement for our own ‘last-minute preparation.’
Why? God has lavishly showered challenges and blessings on them. Think of the sudden surprise by the angel, and the news that she is to conceive the son of God, the Messiah of the world. Think of Joseph, who learns that his betrothed conceived a child, in alarming circumstances, but not from him. And yet, God’s coming, like a meteorite, with its glowing light in the dark sky, gives them the extra strength for their preparation.
We see how Joseph changes, who initially wants to dismiss her. Yet, his dilemma, from the beginning is colored with the good intention that he was ‘unwilling to expose her to public disgrace.’ Mary would have faced penury and shame if Joseph had carried out his original plan to dismiss her. A little extra boost by a dream, grace changes his heart into that of a loving father. ‘When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him.’ He became able to do so - in the power of the first coming Christmas.
We can also contemplate on Mary’s transformation by the Lord’s arrival. She says yes to the Angel’s invitation in no time. With this, she accepts all God’s support in the coming months. She becomes not only a careful mother, but a compassionate expectant mother, who goes and visits and serves Elisabeth.
We can see, how owing to their transformation, God, in turn, is entrusting his Son to Mary and Joseph’s care and protection. A yes to God is never late.
On the threshold of Christmas, at last, let us see to what Mary and Joseph, and we, in our last minute preparation, are responding to? It is God’s self-emptying, kenosis. God chooses to be born as a human person, in the humility of Bethlehem. Mary and Joseph are actually imitating this self-sacrifice and care by God.
Now it is our turn. What change can bring this Christmas to your life? To our life as a community? Think about it. Respond to the Lord’s coming through ‘last minute’ prayers, charity, and resolution. Became member of the Holy Family. And God will bless your openness.
These are verbal Icons, expressions of how the world is seen from Saint Augustine's..