By Fr. Don Braukmann/St. Philip, Bemidji & St. Charles, Pennington
Of all the Christmas cards I have ever received, there is one that I keep in my stack of “important stuff” at all times.
The front of the card is a closeup of a manger, filled with hay. A white blanket covers all but the tender feet of an infant. All that can be seen is the hay, the blanket and the pink feet.
God took flesh. God came to be among us and took the most vulnerable form God could: a baby.
Inside the card it reads, “Through a child we can proclaim peace, bring good tidings and declare to the world ‘Our God Reigns!’”
We could all sit and meditate upon that picture for quite some time. It pulls a person in and helps us realize just what God has done, still does, and will continue to do. God took flesh in Christ and Christ takes flesh in us. What an awesome, humbling mystery shared with us by a God of total, unconditional love.
That baby in the manger is the final, great testimony of a God who is determined to convince us of God’s love. God doesn’t need us; God wants us! To be pursued by a God wildly in love with us is what Christmas is all about.
What a risk God takes by gently descending into the womb of a teenage girl in Nazareth. What a risk God takes each time God is pressed into our hand or on our tongue at Holy Communion. To love is to risk. God is the master risk taker! God’s love is relentless! Mary could have said “No!” and we could leave Christ stuffed in a hymnal or spit him out after we receive him at Mass.
What a risk Christmas is!
That manger scene is God’s proclamation to the world that the risk to love is worth taking.
There was no door keeping people out … the barn had no padlock. It was a resting place for the weary traveler; always open, always waiting. So it is with God.
There is a story of a woman who was out Christmas shopping with her two children. After many hours of looking at row after row of toys and everything else imaginable (along with her children asking for everything they saw) the woman made it to the elevator with her kids.
She was feeling what so many feel during this time of year: overwhelming pressure to go to every party, every housewarming, taste all the holiday food and treats, getting that perfect gift for every single person on the shopping list, making sure we don’t forget anyone on our card list, and the pressure of making sure we respond to everyone who sent us a card.
Finally, the elevator doors opened and there was already a crowd gathered inside. She pushed her way in and dragged her two kids in with her who were attached to all the bags of stuff they had purchased. When the doors closed she couldn’t take it anymore and stated, “Whoever started this whole Christmas thing should be found, strung up and shot.”
From the back of the car everyone heard a quiet calm voice respond, “Don’t worry, we already crucified him.” For the rest of the trip down, not a sound was heard in the elevator.
May our focus, this Christmas, be on the manger in Bethlehem, on the one with two fragile little bare feet and ten tiny toes. Jesus, the greatest and ultimate gift from God, Emmanuel, has come!
Sadly it seems so very few are waiting or longing to adore him.
Pray that we can clean out the cluttered manger of our own hearts to make room for the Redeemer, the Prince of Peace! We do not want to be the heart that has no room. We do not want to be the heart that is too full of worldly, unimportant chaos and things. May we not force Jesus to go elsewhere.
The humble manger of Bethlehem is not appealing to the world because, in the eyes of the world, it has no glory, no attractions and no luxuries. Amazingly, it is in such a manger that God placed Jesus who, in the words of Mother Teresa: “Wanted the unwanted, washed the wounds of the leper, smiled to the beggar, listened to the drunkard, embraced the little one, led the blind, spoke to the mute, walked with the crippled, befriended the addicted, forgave the prostitute and visited the prisoner.”
Jesus Christ, the Son of God came to serve and not be served. The waves and wind still know his name. Through him, with him and in him, God still stoops down on all fours and washes the feet of us all, sinners though we are.
Christmas is a risky time of year. It is worth the risk when you gaze upon the loveliness of those who gather around your tree instead of obsessing over the stuff under it!