“I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.”
We are on the home stretch: a week out from the blessed
Feast of the Nativity, Christmas, when we celebrate the birth of our Savior,
Jesus Christ. Many of us, however, feel as though Christmas has been upon us
for weeks now, an immense burden of gifts, lights, music, and cheer under which
we labor to breathe—like a lone elf struggling to load the loot of the world
into a glossy red sleigh.
The first Christmas was uncomfortable for a different set of
reasons. In the days prior, a newly-married couple traveled from Nazareth to
Bethlehem with a few essentials and a donkey. They traveled not by choice, but
by order of the emperor in Rome. They arrived not to familiar faces, food, and
comfort, but to a town crowded with distant kin and strangers, and the crudest of
accommodations: a dugout-stable-turned-makeshift-nursery where the woman would
give birth to a son.
It turned into celebration of sorts, I suppose, as angels
summoned shepherds from the hills to the town to greet the newborn as they
were, dirt-poor and smelling of sheep. A star, too, beckoned Magi from the
East, strange and majestic, in rich robes and bearing gifts too generous for
the circumstances. (I wonder if Joseph might have gripped his staff a little
tighter, wondering how he, his wife, and son would make it back across the
dangerous country alive while carrying gold, frankincense, and myrrh.)
Imagine a Christmas celebration in which only your third and
fourth cousins showed up, along with the local indigent population and three
fabulously wealthy foreigners—and then you had a baby the basement. Perhaps the
stresses of this Christmas are more manageable from this perspective.
Mary and Joseph were displaced—from Nazareth to Bethlehem
for the census; from Bethlehem to Jerusalem for the presentation of Jesus at
the Temple; and in exile to Egypt, to protect their son from the murderous
intent of Herod. Even as a baby, “the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head” (Matthew 8:20).
In LIFT this month, we are
completing our study of the Mass. As an introduction to the adult and teen
lesson, we are watching a short video from elementsofthecatholicmass.com
on the role of parishioners in the Mass. As the video explains, the word parishioner comes from the Greek work paraoikos, meaning pilgrim—it’s the same Greek word that gives us the English word pariah, which means outcast.
We don’t belong here. We,
like the Holy Family, are a pilgrim people, en route to our true home with God
in heaven. The Church is the ship that carries us: the ark which preserves
God’s people from the storms and waves that batter and drown the rest of the
world.* Let us take refuge here from the maelstrom—the dizzying spin the world
has put on Christmas—and draw near, instead, to Mary, Joseph, and the newborn
king of kings.
* * * * *
*In fact, the area of the church worship space where
we sit, which we commonly call the sanctuary, is technically called the nave—which comes
from the Latin word for ship.
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