And so we come yet again to Christmas. It is not an easy time. Most recently there is the tragedy in Newtown, Conn. There is the current fiscal cliff issue, the fighting in Afghanistan, many military families apart because of military missions, our own military killed or wounded in action and our many military dealing with post traumatic stress. Often folks are wondering just how to get through today, everyday, and many decide they cannot. Christmas is the feast of light, of joy, of peace, and yet there is not too much of any of this around. Life is not easy, folks are good, we try to help, and it doesn’t always work. There seems to be a major disconnect between what we celebrate and how we live every day.
In the traditional Christmas Story there was no room in the inn for Mary and Joseph, so they ended up spending the night in a stable with animals and shepherds. They could not find room in the customary places, so they looked elsewhere, and found what they needed. The Story tells us that Jesus came among us outside the regular and accepted ways of society. Sounds a bit like today. There seem to be a number of parallels.
Many folks in our own day seem to be on a journey similar to that of Mary and Joseph as, wearied from their own journey, they look for a safe place to rest, and, again like Mary and Joseph, are being turned away because there is no room for them due to their lifestyle, their marital status, their questioning of the unquestionable, and so on. It is dangerous to be different, to question authority, to think for oneself. It is not safe to follow the Pope’s advice to “have a prayerful relationship with Jesus, to listen to him in the Gospel, to look for him in folks in need”, because to do so might put us in conflict with the system, even as Mary and Joseph were, and as Jesus became. They are good role models.
Another phrase from the Gospel Stories used at Christmas tells us, “He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him”. Among the doctrines of our faith is our belief that each of us is created in the image and likeness of God. Each of us ought to be able to approach Jesus without having to take an oath, follow a code of conduct, pass a background check. Yet there are many institutions uniquely claiming to be Jesus’ followers that tell us exactly under what conditions we can approach Jesus. Deviate from their standards in any way and there is no room at the inn. And thus many images of God have to look elsewhere while self-righteous institutions pat themselves on the back for their dedication to their unique version of the divine and scheme more diligently to impose their views on all others in the name of religious freedom.
Folks look to places where they have a right to find comfort in Jesus’ name, but instead are told they are “intrinsically disordered”, that their lifestyle is a threat to everybody else’s well-being. Others are silenced or suspended or excommunicated allegedly in the same Jesus’ name. As academics are learning, the institution cannot be questioned in any way, and deviations from the established thought process are not tolerated.
Years back I was serving in a parish in another country where the church was vibrant and involved, and culturally different from what I was used to. Their way of doing weddings was a little strange to me. I discussed this with the pastor who told me, “Please do not judge us, just accept us and love us”. Some persons in church “leadership” might think about this. I went on and did the weddings whenever it was my turn. None of us has all the answers for everybody. In the light that is Jesus we can learn from each other without judging or threatening.
The Story also tells us, “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it”. Herein lies our hope. As each of us, perhaps in our own way, tries to live in fits and starts Jesus’ words, “Anyone who receives you receives me, and anyone who receives me receives the Father who sent me”, we are asking to be led by this light. We may find ourselves being led to places and folks which of ourselves we probably would not choose, to do things or take positions we might not really want to but feel we have to. We have to follow the light and go where it guides us.
The Gospel tell of many journeys – Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, the Holy Family to Egypt, the Magi following the star, Jesus traveling to Jerusalem, the disciples journeying to Emmaus, to name a few. We have to go where we are led, trusting the light we see, whether or not others approve.
Just saying . . .