Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.
When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph,
but before they lived together,
she was found with child through the holy Spirit.
- Matthew 1:18
The beginning of this short narrative of the first Christmas from today's readings reminds us that human plans are and ordinarily seem to be messy, or at least do not follow a neat script. We see that the birth of Jesus starts with an unwed mother in a culturally delicate situation. Her fiancée gets involved through a dream, and his life becomes chaotic. They are then required by law to travel — at the worst possible time — to a place where they will be strangers and will have to depend on the kindness of others. And even after this troubled birth, extraordinary people and events will happen, and they will eventually have to flee for their own safety. Nothing seems to be following a plan — at least not their plan.
On this last day of final exams, with grades due in two short days, our Christmas plans can feel like they are not following the plan. We may be tired from the efforts of the last few weeks. We may wonder how we are going to finish the required actives of our Christmas, with its shopping, wrapping, travel and stresses. It all may seem so messy.
If we consider the first Christmas story, as Saint Ignatius recommends, by using our imaginations to become part of that story, we will probably find that our feelings of uncertainty and messiness are very much like the feelings of Mary and Joseph. If we examine these valid feelings and the reaction of this couple in their struggle of the first Christmas, we may learn how they reacted to what was out of their control.
We may be able to see that this young couple had to turn continually to their trust in God and his plan for their lives. They found encouragement in each other, but most importantly in their relationship with God. So, as situations did not seem to be making any sense and as strange people appeared in their lives, they tried to see their lives from the big plan God had for them and the world and not just from their own perceptions.
We can each take this lesson from long ago and apply and use it in our own lives, our own stories, our own messiness. We can attempt to see things beyond our own expectations so we will, maybe, no longer be bound by our own limited ideas and plans, so we might see the wonders we cannot now imagine. We can exercise our imperfect trust in God, to whatever degree, to better see through the cloudy situations we have, to begin to discover a plan beyond our limited designs. Above all, we can allow ourselves to be filled with hope. Hope that is not centered on our own blueprints but the grand scheme which is God's.
This will not clean up the messiness or the perception chaos we feel in our lives but it will help us to discover the blessings and riches offered each of us, if we do not concentrate on our own ideas. That is what that first Christmas was about. That in the poorest, very insignificant circumstances is found the greatest gift of God Himself. That is all part of our story.
Have a Blessed Advent!
D. Highberger, S.J.
P. Stark, S.J.