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Fr. Laurence’s Reflections – Fourth Sunday in Advent
The story of the birth of Jesus is not as nice as we have made it seem in our long cultural reworkings and evasions. It begins, even before his birth, with the slur of illegitimacy – not a nice way for the Son of God to appear. Then he becomes homeless - no room in the inn. And then an exile, fleeing for his life from the butcher Herod, who like the butchers at the massacre of Peshawar was blinded by fear and anger.
What a strange story to fill us with hope. And we in whom the story does awaken hope - that is more than optimism and much more than easy consolation - are charged with sharing this hope with a world that, in every generation and culture, veers towards madness.
It is gift. Not like the ‘buy two, get one free’ kind of gift, which is no gift at all, just a good bargain. But the kind of gift that scares us because it is truly free, unconditional and will not be withdrawn. A gift like this, which is always essentially a gift of self, frightens us. ‘He came unto his own and his own (that’s us) received him not’. It scares us to accept such a gift because we know that our lives would henceforth be inhabited by the self of the giver and that this would change us by empowering us in turn to give ourselves.
Even Mary felt this fear at the very beginning of the story. She was deeply disturbed by these words and asked herself what this greeting could mean, but the angel said to her, ‘Mary, do not be afraid.’
She couldn’t explain it, only ponder it and trust. There is a lot in this appearance of God in the human that we cannot understand and that we can only learn to accept. Meditation is the way we accept the gift of our being and the resistance we feel to this most simple work is the same that we feel towards the gift of God’s self in the person of Jesus ‘in whom the fullness of the Godhead dwelt embodied’.
As with meditation, when the word becomes flesh in our hearts, so with Christian faith: we cannot know the gift by seeing its essence. We can never see the essence because it is our own essence which we can never stand outside. We know this gift through its energies, the effects it has. The freedom from fear, the release of our capacity to love, hope undimmed by adversity and a lightness of heart even when our minds are heavily burdened. The gift that does not grow stale, that stays and eventually changes us into itself.
‘God became human so that human beings might become God.’