If we were to be a mere observer of the scene of what happened at the birth of Jesus, what would we see? First we will see a poorly dressed couple nursing a child on a manger. Then to our surprise, we will see some shepherds coming by to visit the family; somewhat excited as they spoke to the child’s mother. Then strangely, they bow in deep reverence to the child and leave the stable singing and praising at the top of their voices, and telling each other excitedly what had happened.
Of course as a passive observer we would not have noticed the bright star of Bethlehem shining above together with a million other stars. We will then become even more perplexed as we now see three wise men from the East visiting the family at the stable. They not only bow and kneel in deep reverence, but each of them offering certain precious gift to the family.
Looking at all these happenings externally, can only bring puzzlement and even confusion, if we do not appreciate them with our eyes and heart of faith in the Good News of God’s salvation.
But, if we are no longer mere observers, but are personally engaged and involved in the scene with the eyes and heart of faith, thenevery thing changes. We will begin to see the deeper meaning of what is happening. We will begin to see how God, our Lord and Saviour freely and happily allowed Himself to be born in a stable in Bethlehem; a place of greatest simplicity, dignity and purity. We will also see how God too happily chose Mary to be the Mother of Jesus, our Saviour and Lord because she is the most perfect embodiment of simplicity, dignity and purity. We will also come to appreciate more deeply how God deliberately chose to announce the Good News of the birth of Jesus, His Son and Saviour, first of all to the shepherds in the fields; the poorest of the poor in the country, who in God’s eyes were most deserving as they too were of people of the greatest simplicity, dignity and purity.
With the eyes of faith, we will also realise how Mary, the shepherds and the three wise men were all open to the Truth of God. They each initially experienced fear when they were confronted by God, but with assurances from God, they all responded in faith and believed in the Good News.
Mary, Mother of God icon
Mary, not only believed in the angel Gabriel’s message to be the Mother of Jesus; she praised God for the Good News, and responded promptly and went to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who was already in her sixth month of pregnancy in her old age. The shepherds overcoming their fear also believed in the angels’ proclamation and acted promptly in search of the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger who is their Saviour and Lord. The three wise men too although perplexed by the unusual constellation of the stars, responded promptly and positively and followed the star of Bethlehem to lead them to Jesus, their Saviour and Lord.
What is common to Mary, the Shepherds and the three wise men is that they were people who pondered on the deeper meaning of life. They were people who were radically open to the Truth of God; and when they found the Truth of God, they acted promptly, passionately and persistently to fulfil the Truth.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, we have just stepped into our new year 2010. Last year, 2009, for many of us, just flew by. If we were merely to “observe” our experiences of last year on their surface, and not at the deeper level and not from the meaning and perspectives of our faith, i.e. of how God would want us to live our lives, then we would probably, not get too much out of it. This is because to reflect on our experiences outside our faith perspectives would merely look at the external and emotional level of our experiences. Thus, such reflections would probably not be deep.
So, let us spend sometime today and the coming days to prepare ourselves to welcome the year 2010 that has just begun. It is not only important, but essential to ask ourselves how we want God to be more fully part ofour life this year and better still, how He can be at the centre of our lives. Like Mary, we too are asked to ponder on the deeper meaning of life and be radically open to the Truth of God, so that when we find the Truth during the year, as our experiences unfold, we can then, like the shepherds and the wise men, and most especially like Mary also act promptly, passionately, and persistently to fulfil the Truth of God in our lives.
If we do not do this, we would probably not be going to experience this year to be too different from last year and the previous years, qualitatively.
But, if we were to learn from the shepherds, the three wise men and especially Mary and begin to reflect on the deeper meaning of how we are living our lives, then I believe the PEACE of God that Jesus wants to give usat Christmas would permeate our hearts more deeply and transform our lives more fully.
This peace is more than the contentment of having the many things that we want in life that are material, emotional or financial. This PEACE does not come from this world; this PEACE of Christ comes from the divine world of God that entered into our earthly worldthrough the simplicity and purity of Mary in a stable. This PEACE is allowing Jesus to become more fully part of our lives and daily living.
We can develop this PEACE through having Mary as our model. We need to spend quality time with our Lord – set aside a few minutes each day; without being too ambitious, even 5 to 10 minutes to begin with daily would be very good. Just sit in front of your Christmas Crib at home or in our Church, or stay back for several minutes after each Mass to ponder on and try to sense how Jesus wants you to live your life differently and more fully in His ways.
During the eulogy of a recent funeral Mass that I presided, the daughter of the deceased (lets call her Jane) gave many examples of how her father was somewhat strict, firm and naggy at her and how she would argue with her father and disagree with him. However, upon a deeper reflection on what happened between her and her father, Jane could now see how they were all her father’s way of being protective of her and loving her. If Jane had not reflected on at a deeper level of her relationship with her father, she would have had the superficial impression of her father in a very negative way. But, through her deeper reflection on her experiences, she discovered the gems beneath the uncut rock.
St Augustine who lived an immoral and worldly life upon his conversion became a great saint of the Church. His most well known phrase in his Autobiographical Confessions is, “Lord, my heart was restless until it rests in You.” In St Augustine’s restlessness of his worldly life he tried to find God everywhere, but eventually found Him in the quiet of his heart.
As I sum up and conclude, I would like to remind ourselves that first, unless we live a life that rooted in God we will not find the PEACE of the Christ child who has come into our world and lives at Christmas.
Second, to be more rooted in God, means that we need to develop a personal relationship with Him in our daily living.
Third, such a relationship can only take root firmly if we are able to reflect on the deeper meaning of our lives and try to find how God is present within us. It is in living such a reflective life that we can become more like Mary, the shepherds and the three wise men, of the Gospels who were able to believe in God’s Truth more fully, praise Him more spontaneously, and put into action our inspirations from God more promptly.
If we are able to live in this way daily, we will certainly be ableto get in touch with the essence of our life which will inevitably move us into living our lives more selflessly for the sake of others, and out of love for God.
When this happens, we can be sure that the true and everlasting PEACE of Christ that Mary pondered on, the shepherds heard proclaimed by the angels, and the three wise mensaw in the child in the manger has also taken root in our lives.
Fr Philip Heng, S.J.
visitors since 2 January 2010