So, today is Christmas Day. I like Christmas, for a lot, a lot of reasons. But I always feel like we forget what Christmas is really about.
I feel like people might get the wrong impression, and think that I might be meaning that it’s not about the presents, which, I mean, in reality it’s not, but that’s certainly a part of it, though explicit presents-wrapped-in-wrapping-paper-and-stuck-under-a-dead/fake-tree-adorned-in-lights is definitely not the actual meaning of Christmas. Did I get presents anyways? Definitely. Did I explicitly tell my parents not to get me anything for Christmas this year? Again, definitely. I even meant it this time, though I am grateful that the only things waiting for me, from them, were a bunch of multi-colored and patterned socks (which to be fair, I love cool socks, so that was an awesome gift), and a really simple, analog watch with a brown band that will look better when I’m wearing non-black suits.
But again, presents aren’t the point of Christmas. At least not explicitly, even if it is so heavily implied in our culture. As a Catholic, I want to remind everyone that we celebrate Christmas because it is Jesus’ birth. In the Christian tradition, Jesus was born into the world, both as the fully divine Godhead, and as a fully human, completely vulnerable young little baby. Here, we have the great, powerful, omnipotent God of the Old Testament, born into a young woman and her husband, in a manger, among animals near an inn. What’s even most astonishing is where Jesus was born into. He was a Galilean Jew. His people were looked down upon by both the Romans who occupied the land and the people, and by there fellow Jews, who saw them as too Roman. They were mestizos of their own kind.
Jesus was poor. He was hard working his entire life. He lived among the bottom class. Yet he was the Word incarnate. He was God on earth, the very Prince of Peace which Isaiah spoke of.
He was God, born at the margins. He not only comforted and was with the poor, the suffering, the destitute, he WAS the poor, the suffering, the destitute. He was born into all of it, and if he didn’t experience it himself, he witnessed it firsthand. Jesus calls us to serve the poor, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisoner, and take in the stranger because he was all those things. God purposely chose to come as the most vulnerable in his society, because those who are vulnerable are closest to God’s own heart.
I want to bring up two things, one of which a priest said, the other of which the author John Green said, and they really connect to one another.
Yesterday, I was lucky enough to sing in the choir for the Young Alumni mass for my High School. It was awesome to see friends I went to High School with, and the likes. But what’s important is the Homily given by the priest. Fr. Tom, also an alumni of the school, but of the year 1964, talked to us about Jesus’ birth in the manger.
Now, John Green, today, on Facebook, wished all of his followers a merry christmas. But, I was interested that he particularly called Jesus a homeless child. Now, I agree that in this time of celebrating the birth of Jesus, who was born into the marginalized, that we care for the most marginalized in our own society, because that is where Jesus is present. My only reaction is that well… Jesus wasn’t necessarily homeless. In the Gospel reading for today (Luke 2:1-14), it’s very clear that Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem because that’s where Joseph needed to register the two (three of them, as Mary was with child) of them to be enrolled as Caesar Augustus had decreed. It also happens that Mary went into labor on that trip.
What’s interesting is that, the priest told us the story of his visit to Loyola in Spain, where St. Ignatius was from. On this visit, he also visited the site of the birth of another nearby Jesuit who was beatified. The Jesuit was born also among the animals, as the house was built with the stable underneath the house. He noted, on the tour, that the house had spaces between where the pieces of floor met. He asked if the floor pieces had shrunk in the centuries since, but was told that the house was designed this way, so that the heat of the animals would rise and in turn heat the rest of the house.
We realize then that when the inn keeper took in Mary and Joseph, as Mary went into labor, that the child being born needed to be placed in the warmest space available to keep the baby healthy. Of course, that was among the animals! It was actually a sign of hospitality that the inn keeper, though also not well off, still took the young family in, and gave them the best he had. It was not luxurious by any means, but it was still a sign of hospitality. The newborn Christ, fully vulnerable, probably survived due to this sign of hospitality.
If this is not a sign of where we need to place our attention, I don’t know what is.
Please keep all of the people on the margins of our society in your thoughts, prayers, and actions. But, also, remember those around you. Everyone is in need of God’s love.
I think, honestly, Nick got a lot of it right in only his second blog post. He also puts it a lot more concisely than I have. Truly, celebrate with your friends and family, and all that you can. Be gracious, generous, and loving. But don’t forget those that we don’t see, and are often left unseen. Surely a newborn Jesus was not seen by very many.