Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. All of Creation proclaims the coming of Christ! As the bright stars in the Heavens shine amidst the darkness of the cold winter nights, they herald the coming of the first snowfall of the season. Like the angels in the open fields of Bethlehem, they signal to us to remember the first Christmas when the Word became Flesh of the Immaculate Virgin Mary. The birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ is the revelation of God to man and yet He also reveals man to Himself, recalling us to the childlike dependence, humility, and love that we live out first in the human family and then with all our brothers and sisters, especially in the mystical Body of Christ. When we reflect on the Christ Child born of the Virgin Mary, we understand the love of God made Incarnate, made Flesh for us to hear, to see and to love. We recognize that Jesus left His glory in Heaven to become one of us on this earth so that we might participate in His Divine life. As we move on toward this Christmas Day, also culminating the Year of St. Joseph, let us consider the one action we need to take to allow the miracle of Christmas to change our hearts — listen to the call of St. Joseph, as a knock on the door, to open our hearts to Christ!
Consider the long pilgrimage the Holy Family took on the way to Bethlehem. The Child Jesus hidden in the womb of Mary travels within His mother and in the protective care of His father guardian St. Joseph. St. Joseph and the Blessed Mother went to be enrolled in the first census because Joseph was of the House of David. As head of the Holy Family, Joseph received the God-given name of Jesus by the angel who had told him because Jesus is the Only Begotten of the Father given into the custody of St. Joseph.
The name and the person of the Son of God is explicitly revealed by the messenger of the Lord. Joseph heard the call of the angel and opened his heart to the long awaited “good news” of the coming of the Messiah. As a man of good will St. Joseph obeyed the angel and did as he was instructed. He obeyed the messenger who came in the name of the Lord. We can infer that St. Joseph went to knock at the door of an inn in Bethlehem where travelers lodged asking if there was a place they could stay. However, as he knocked on the door of the inn, he was informed that they could not enter because all the rooms were occupied. Since they did not open to St. Joseph, they also could not receive the Virgin Mother and her Child. Scripture tells us, “And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him up in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn” (Lk 2:7). One can only imagine the sadness of Joseph for those who did not open their hearts to the poverty and necessity of this Family in need. The hustle and bustle of the inn filled with paying customers and the cares of this world could not open to those in need but sent them away perhaps even with insults and derisions. This is not hard to imagine, as even St. Francis, the saint who was most conformed to Christ, may have taken from this Scripture verse as his model to achieving perfect joy. St. Francis explained to one of his brother friars what perfect joy was: “Brother Leo, please listen to me. Above all gifts of the Holy Spirit, that Christ Jesus gives to His friends is the grace to overcome oneself, to accept willingly, out of love for Him, all contempt, all discomfort, all injury, and all suffering. In this and all other gifts, we ourselves should not boast because all things are gifts from God. Remember the words of St. Paul: ‘What do you have that you did not receive from God? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?” (1 Cor 4:7). But in the cross of afflictions and suffering, we truly can glory because as St. Paul says again: ‘May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal 6:14). Amen.
During this Advent season we can offer the Christ Child certainly the pleasing gifts of doing good acts for others for love of Him, but the most pleasing gifts we can offer Him are the sacrificial gifts of our self-denial or even higher gifts that are not of our own making such as accepting sufferings, sickness and afflictions from the hand of God without complaint so as to share in some way with the cross of Christ. St. Joseph willingly accepted these trials and hardships on behalf of the Child to witness to Christ. Though it is sad for those who perpetrate acts of selfishness and injustice, it is repaired and co-redeemed by the silent acceptance of the faithful who receive whatever God sends, praying for mercy and carrying their crosses in union with Christ. This is perfect joy.
In such a way we prepare gifts born of our love in thanksgiving for the Greatest Gift of All — JESUS. We should prepare for Christmas as we would prepare for the wedding feast of Heaven. The Advent season in preparation for the Nativity of the Lord is a preparation for that ultimate “Marriage supper of the Lamb” in which we have been called to partake. Each of us has been chosen from the moment of our Baptism by the Lord Who sealed us in His own Passion, death and Resurrection for that last and beautiful day when we will see the Lord Jesus face to face. When the angel of the Lord appeared in the fields of Bethlehem, announcing to shepherds, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Lk 2, 10-11), he was preparing the human heart to receive the invitation of the “King Who gave a Marriage feast for His Son.” As the angel appeared first to the Blessed Mother and to St. Joseph in a dream and then to the shepherds, so too, he also calls to us instructing His servants, our guardian angels, to “invite to the Marriage feast as many as you find” (Mt 22, 2. 9). Do you hear the call? We must live in confidence and hope in anticipation of that eternal Christmas when we will be united with Christ, our Eternal Bridegroom in a feast of love.
This was the love of St. Francis for the Christ Child and the Holy Family. His love for Christ was so great amidst the coldness of this world that it inspired him one Christmas to create a living stable in the town of Greccio to make the fire of Divine love leap up in the hearts of man. From this time we have the tradition of setting up a manger scene to contemplate the mystery of the Incarnation. St. Francis lived in preparation for that beautiful day preparing gifts not just for a season but daily until the final knock upon his heart was heard and He entered into joy. As the Year of St. Joseph and the Year of the Holy Family ends let us keep a holy reminder of it by keeping a blessed image of the Holy Family as a centerpiece in our homes where our family can spend some time gathered round in prayer and contemplation of the marriage feast of Heaven.
Let us also make this season live in our hearts as a time when we resolve to make a continual preparation for our eternal Christmas in Heaven and bring as many other people with us by our prayers, witness and joy! A Blessed Christmas to all!
Small and her husband Bill have made their solemn profession as Third Order Franciscans of the Immaculate, through the Franciscans of the Immaculate in New Bedford.