Reflection for Sunday – December 18, 2022
Readings: Isaiah 7: 10-14; Romans 1: 1-7; Matthew 1: 18-24
Preacher: Sr. Joan Sobala
One of the common misconceptions among Christians is that the Christmas stories—indeed, Christmas itself—is best celebrated by children. It’s true that children love Christmas with exuberance and delight in the stories of Jesus’ birth. They learn early about the generosity of our God who came to be one of us, teaching us in the way he was born about simplicity and making do with little. Children don’t watch the joy of Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, and kings. They participate in that joy and get excited about Christmas, with its brightness and song.
Children also learn very early to rely on the repetition of family and parish customs that create the aura of Christmas: everything from decorating cookies through noisy family gatherings, the humble manger scene, carols, and the appearance of little angels at Christmas Eve Mass. Now that feeling the major impact of COVID 19 is over, families are reviving their Christmas customs.
But one day, the child grows up, and is expected to become the creator of the aura of Christmas. Then what? Of the richness of Christmas, is there anything left for the adult except gift-giving and too many parties? Do adult Christians dismiss the Christmas stories and say about them: “These stories are wonderful reminders of my childhood. That’s all.”
The fact is that the Christmas stories are essentially for adults who are being called to faith. The evangelists Matthew and Luke were writing for women and men who were struggling with belief. Was Jesus God? Was he human? What did they learn for their lives of faith from how he came into our midst?
These stories told the early Christians that Jesus was God from his very conception and that there were faithful men and women who took part in these events—men and women who took risks because of Jesus. We, too, can find our lifelines written in these stories—but it takes concentration on our part to realize it.
Let’s begin with Joseph, from whose perspective the annunciation is written in Matthew. Joseph accepts the coming of God—not without initial hesitation but with ultimate trust. Joseph could have said no to the life-changing request that came from God. He could have acted in self-righteousness, asserting that his conjugal rights were being violated, but some predisposition—call it grace if you will—blended with his love for Mary, held him in check.
How many of us would be like Joseph and pay attention to God speaking to us through a dream? The message came to Joseph when he was not consciously thinking. God spoke to him in a non-rational way—through an intuition or some undefined sense of the appropriate. You and I, with our western mentalities, tend to trust our minds—to think our way logically to reasonable conclusions and be satisfied. Often that is the right thing to do. But it’s not the only thing to do. We need to be like Joseph, and have the truth revealed to us in our dreams and have the courage to follow it.
At first, the angel’s message disturbed Joseph, but comfort was also there. “Do not be afraid!” the angel told him. “Do not be afraid to take Mary to yourself.”
In this next week, make a quiet moment and read through the first two chapters of Matthew and Luke and see how often people who are close to Jesus are told “Do not be afraid.” That message is for us too. Children in their innocence are not afraid of life. Adults are. In this time of great climate uncertainty, financial and food insecurity, or even in the simple acts of everyday living, we can be vastly afraid. In Christ, we need not be afraid.
So, here’s the question: Beginning this week, are we going to go through the motions—the rituals of Christmas—without an adult grasp of Christ’s coming or are we going to pay attention to the dreams and intuition that God inspires in us? Will we find in our lives and in the Eucharist the one who is the answer to our dreams, or will we be merely present, if that.
Let’s pray for our openness: “You wait for us, Lord, until we are open to You. We wait for Your Word to make us receptive. Attune us to Your voice, Your silence. Speak and bring your son to us—Jesus, our Brother and Savior. Amen.” (Huub Oosterhuis, Your Word Is Near)