Only One Thing Brings Happiness: That He Be Born In Us Today!
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
We in western civilization have a very romantic and sentimental view of Christmas which brings many people to church who normally do not come, and that is a good thing. Our manger makes the birth of Jesus Christ look like Aruba or southern Florida and the reality was far different. A family with four small boys told me recently that St. Joseph must have been rejected by his family and people who knew him since he was from Bethlehem and must have been known by many. Maybe there were scared of the threat of Herod to kill any newborn boys at that time.
In the Eastern churches Christmas is depicted very differently. It is more theological and sacramental using signs to help us understand the reality. Their paintings are icons and the painter cannot paint whatever he feels like. He has to follow the rule for a nativity icon. So certain depictions have to be there. There needs to be an ox and a mule since this is what Isaiah prophesied about centuries before Christ. Isaiah said: “An on knows the manger and the mule knows its master, but Israel does not know God.” He predicted that the Messiah would be rejected seven hundred years before the Nativity.
The Virgin Mary is not seen kneeling before Christ in a stable in these icons. She and the Child are depicted on a grave since it would prophesy that Christ would rise from the dead. Mary has her back to the child perhaps thinking: how did this happen? And St. Joseph is down in the lower corner of the painting talking to an old man with a cane. What does this represent? It is an image of the devil telling Joseph that this is an impossible feat for a virgin, and especially a woman who will remain a virgin. How could she conceive without a man? Whose child is this? Joseph has a halo and he also has these doubts.
There are wise men following a star and midwives who show us that Jesus is truly human, not just the appearance of humanity. So these icons are more theological and not devotional; they don’t appease the emotions. There are some painters who are trying to recover this type of art for the West where much of sacred art has been lost for centuries, and we are part of this here at St. Joe’s. We don’t have icons of this type but we are trying to update our church to speak to the people of this area. Beauty and art has a way of communicating that is beyond words.
Shifting gears a bit we can ask as many people do why is Jesus so passive and silent? In the midst of so much suffering and misery, even in the church, why doesn’t he act nor do something? It is a scary question but one that is good for us to think about. There is only one thing that can restore humanity to happiness and that is a supernatural life which can only begin quietly in each one of us, as it did for Mary. There is really only one thing that can solve the suffering we see before us today: that Christ be born in us. This love can only begin from within. Love can never be forced or imposed; it has to be free. An army of soldiers or of angels cannot demand it from anyone. It is something each one of us has to take into ourselves and our hearts. And our hearts need to be humble and clean.
Then Christ will go where you go. You are his hands and his feet, his mouth and his heart. The disciples did this even though they were weak, uneducated and doubting as we see Joseph in that icon of the Nativity.
To be open to this possibility in a permanent way I need to be simple, which is not silliness. To be simple means to not be complicated, not to be double in any sense, and not to delude myself or anyone else. When we are simple two tremendous things happen: we can become humble and others can accept us for who we are. Accept yourself for who you are and don’t live by the projections others have for you. God will help you to be simple; look for him during this season of Christmas. Learn from him how to be small and simple.