Association, not just works…
Christmas Gospel Meditation – Lk 2:1–14
by Archbishop Joseph Harris
Many years ago, while I was still a missionary in Paraguay, I received a visit from the provincial superior of one of our provinces in the United States. As I was driving him into the city one day, I saw a man whom I knew very well standing on the side of the road waiting for a bus.
I stopped to ask if he needed a ride but he was going in the opposite direction to the national shrine of Our Lady. I wished him well and continued on in the direction we were headed. The provincial asked me who the person was. He was totally shocked when I told him that it was the bishop of one of the dioceses where we worked.
I thought of that incident as I read the Gospel for Christmas. We are told in the Gospel story that Mary “wrapped him (the infant Jesus) in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”
Many of us have experienced, I am certain, arriving in a city in which there are no hotel rooms available because there is a convention going on or some similar activity. Unless one has made reservations, it is extremely difficult if not impossible to find lodgings for the night.
The same thing must have happened to Mary and Joseph. Given the mode of communication of that era, it would have been impossible for Mary and Joseph to make reservations. They had to depend on luck, and not being wealthy or famous, the influence to bend arms to get what they require was not theirs.
There was no room for God to become a human in the hotel or inn. They like so many other poor persons would have to remain in the fields, finding shelter in lean-tos and caves. Mary and Joseph probably chose a stable because the bodies of the animals would provide a certain degree of warmth for the infant.
God’s choice is very clear. Emmanuel, God with us chose to begin life sharing the lot of the poor and influence-less of his society. This was the pattern of Jesus’ life, a pattern continued until the crucifixion.
It is normal for us, steeped in the values of a consumer society to ask why. Why this association with those whom the society does not consider? The answer to me is very simple: the rich and powerful rarely have time for God. The cares of this world consume them. They have no time to receive God. The poor, because they have time for God, also receive God’s wisdom.
Let us never forget the parable of the King who gave the wedding feast for his son. Those invited first all had other things to do. They could not be bothered with the invitation. Those who accepted the invitation were those from the highways and byways.
And so, the shepherds in the fields are visited by the angels and are told “I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a saviour has been born for you who is Christ and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”
Jesus’ attitude is one of association, not just doing a few charitable works. This has many implications for the disciples of Jesus; we cannot be satisfied with doing a few charitable works for the poor. Association speaks of a relationship in which we receive as much as we get.
The doing of a few charitable works does not speak of time spent with others; association does, and if like Jesus we associate with the poor and influence-less of our society, they will share with us a wisdom which comes from God. This is how all the saints lived. This is how we are all called to live.
All powerful and ever-loving God, You chose to be Emmanuel, God with us, but the only ones who recognised you were the poor shepherds who had received your Wisdom through the message of the angels. Help us your people to set aside time for you. Help us to seek you among those with whom you associate. Give us the grace to recognise you as you come to us in the poor and those without influence. Send us angels to tell us that you are here. We ask this through the intercession of Mary, your Mother and Our Mother and your son Jesus. Amen.
The Gospel reflections for December are by Archbishop Joseph Harris.