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First Mass of Christmas

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Mary didn’t have a choice about being on the road when she went into labour. Joseph had to register for the census and that meant traveling from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Joseph didn’t have a choice about the fact that this child was not biologically his own. It was a done deal by the time he found out about it. Neither of them had a choice about the fact that Jesus would be born in a stable. There was no room at the inn, so it was either the barn or a ditch by the side of the road. They were made vulnerable by their circumstances: vulnerable to gossip about Jesus’ parentage, vulnerable to physical pain and danger in Mary’s case, vulnerable to a feeling of failing to provide for his family in Joseph’s case.

The shepherds didn’t have a choice about being out in the fields with their sheep in the dark and the cold. The sheep needed tending and guarding, and the sheep were the shepherds’ livelihood, their means of economic survival. The shepherds were vulnerable to the weather and the terrain. They also didn’t have a choice about the visiting angels. The heavenly host descended on them out of nowhere, and suddenly Glorias were filling the air. They were terrified and had no defence against their fear.

As you think about your life this year, where do you feel like you didn’t have a choice? It’s likely that many things come to mind.  You don’t have a choice about your own struggles with health or relationships or  any of the myriad of things, or the fight to make good choices that you seem to lose over and over.

Christmas is all about God giving us a choice. God places the power in our hands. God comes into our insane world and says to us, “Do you want me? Will you allow me to be born among you? Will you accept this tiny infant as your saviour and your friend and your hope?”

And we’re free to say no. Because underneath that choice is another choice, and that is the true choice of Christmas.  

Despair and cynicism and even hatred are actually the paths of least resistance. When something offends us or frightens us, the easiest response is to lash out in anger and self-defence. And with the difficult situations in our lives compounded by the conflicts in our society, our walls are very, very high right now. We will not be caught defenceless. We will not be left unaware.  And how does God answer our minds and hearts and communities bristling with self-defence so aggressive that it actually seems to be offense? God gives Godself to us in the most vulnerable form possible: a fragile human baby. 

We have to set down our weapons, take off our armour, lay aside our power and control, in order to even see the infant Christ in each other.

But the choice of Christmas that we make is in answer to the choice that God made, the choice to come to us utterly reliant on us humans for his survival in the world. And God took joy in giving Godself to us in this way. So, if we can take the same risk that God did, we can feel the same joy God feels.  

And what happens when we do take off the armour? What happens when we stop trying to be right all the time, safe all the time, in control all the time? What happens when we let the light radiating from that small face in the manger penetrate our hearts? Joy. Joy is deeper than happiness or celebration or exuberance. Joy is a force that knocks down all the walls around our hearts and levels us with the goodness, the grace, the unearned and unending love and healing that is our newly arrived Jesus. Joy remakes us, tears down our cynical and fearful identities and gives birth to a self that is trusting, patient, believing, knowing that all will be well, and all manner of things will be well. Joy is the reward of the long-nurtured faith that got us here. Joy is a quiet and lasting foundation that endures while the currents of happiness and grief wash back and forth over the surface of our hearts.

 That is what awaits us behind the choice of Christmas. That is what being vulnerable to joy feels like. That is what joy can do to us if we let it—if we have the courage to let go into the miracle.

It’s all up to us. What choice will you make?



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