The Jewish people for centuries, waited with eager longing for the promised Messiah. Many expected him to come in power and glory to overthrow the Roman occupation troops and establish his kingdom in Jerusalem. These expected a privileged place in this kingdom, as first class citizens. They would enjoy power, wealth and prestige. On their part, they had to observe God's law, laid out in the Ten Commandments and several later laws and prescriptions. Some like the Pharisees, kept these meticulously and expected in return, to enjoy all the rights as citizens of this messianic kingdom. This was their plan and not God's plan. God's plan was different. It was God alone who would save them, in His own time and way.
A child would be born in a stable, helpless and powerless. Mary and Joseph and the shepherds were poor people. They believed that nothing was impossible with God. His kingdom was not of this world. Those who knew they were poor, helpless and powerless needed God. Sinners too, who were helpless to overcome sin by their own efforts but believed in God's mercy to redeem them were also eligible to be citizens of this kingdom.
Many of us may not be poor, helpless and powerless today. But we are sinners who need God. As we wait for Christmas, to celebrate his coming into our midst, we may desire instant love, joy and peace, so that we may escape from our miserable prisons of self-centred love and self-worship.
Many in the home are like single grains of wheat. Husband, wife and children are alone, caught up in their own fears, worries, annoyances and frustrations. Each one seeks some pleasure or power over the other. Maybe we use each other as objects for our own satisfaction. One scores at the expense of the other. One laughs at the other's failures. Guilt increases and is buried beneath a mound of frenetic activity at office, in shopping malls or in compulsive socializing. Or perhaps it is in solo, pious activities or good works, where one feels holier than the other. An escape into alcohol, drugs or over-work is common. Buried guilt leads to depression. Psychosomatic illnesses are common escapes from boredom and frustration in the home.
As children wait for Santa Claus to bring them toys, so many adults wait with longing expectation for a new car, house, holiday or citizenship in another country where they hope to lead a more comfortable and secure life. We work hard; we save money; we make significant sacrifices. We pray to an infant Jesus dressed up like a prince of Prague to obtain these things for us. But when we have another look at the crib and its occupants, we notice their littleness, their simplicity and their humility. How can we imitate them?
The kingdom of God has already entered into our world with Jesus. It is not a future reality after enjoying an earthly kingdom in this life. Blessed are the poor (and the dispossessed), for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. The kingdom, like heaven is in their hearts, not on cloud nine. The kingdom is not a passing experience during a retreat or a prayer session, although one may receive a glimpse and a foretaste of it in such ways. It is not enough to sing, preach or pray about the kingdom in a formula that we rattle off. The kingdom is closely connected with doing God's will for us. That is why Jesus prayed "Thy kingdom come! They will be done!"
What is God's will for our marriage and home? As a couple and family, we need to imitate Mary and open our lives to the Word of God and the Spirit of God this Advent. If we sincerely do this, God will reveal to the little ones what is hidden from the wise and the learned. He will open our eyes to recognize his presence in our home, the members of our family and the poor whom He sends into our lives, as his messengers to evangelize us. He will give us the hearts of children, akin to the hearts of the Holy Family and the shepherds. Advent is a time of conversion of mind and heart and values. It is a time of waiting with longing love for Jesus, like Mary and Joseph. It is a time of waiting like the shepherds, with hope for a Savior who will redeem us. It is a time of being open to the unexpected manner in which he comes.
So here are some suggestions as to how we can prepare to meet our Savior at Christmas:
- Give up our belief that we can manipulate God and bribe, cajole or bluff Him so that He obeys our will.
- Believe that we and others are precious in His eyes and reborn in His love
- Consider others better than ourselves and seek to love, serve, forgive and appreciate them.
- Be reconciled with all those who have hurt us and ask forgiveness from all those we have hurt.
- Pray with a humble heart, for the grace to recognize him in the little, the simple, the poor, as we recognize him in the breaking of the bread.
- Prepare this Christmas to greet and celebrate his coming also with those who cannot return a favour, except by sharing with us the love and presence of Jesus, in the stables in which He now resides.