About a year ago I heard the following story about the Jewish people, and I was quite shocked when I heard it. Someone was explaining that for the Jewish people the three most terrible things that happened to them in their history were: both times the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, and the holocaust during the second World War when several million Jews were killed. When I heard this first I found myself thinking, 'how on earth could the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem be as bad as the Jewish Holocaust?', Then the man went on to explain that for the Jewish people the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem was as terrible as the holocaust because it was like having God taken away from them. They could no longer offer sacrifice to God for their sins. They felt that they were cut off from God, in some sense. One of the jobs of the prophets at that time was to help them to understand that just because they had lost the temple and they had been sent into exile, didn’t mean that God was no longer with them. God was with them just as much, but in a different way. It took them a while to get their heads around this.
All throughout history God continues to surprise us in the ways that He comes among us and in the way that God works among us. No one expected God to visit his people in the person of Jesus, beginning in the womb of Mary and then as a totally helpless newborn baby; then to spend only 33 or so years on earth and for the last three years as a wandering preacher, eventually being tortured and killed. How could that be God? But we believe it was.
Since the time of Jesus we say that in each mass Jesus is present to us in the Scriptures and in the Eucharist. I always think of the words of St. Paul in the earliest account of the mass that we have (1 Cor 11:23), when he says, ‘this is what I received from the Lord and in turn passed on to you...’ and then he goes on to describe the mass. He is saying ‘I didn’t make this up’ and neither did any of the other disciples of Jesus. ‘Jesus himself did this and told us to keep doing it,’ so that he could be with us in this bizarre ritual we call the mass. That is why we don’t replace it and do something else, because we believe it was Jesus who gave this to us, and through this ritual he continues to make himself present to us.
So what has all this got to do with Christmas you may ask? I’m getting to that! The Lord continues to come to us in the most unexpected ways and when the structures on earth which represent him, such as the Church, begin to get caught up in the wrong things, such as power and prestige, then God pulls down those structures and starts again, because so often God seems to prefer to work through simple, humble means, such as a new born baby in a crib. No grand entrance, but quietly walking among the ‘little people’ you could say. That’s also what Jesus spent his ministry on earth doing, walking among the little people, the people who weren’t considered important.
I am sure that part of what we are seeing at the moment is the Lord helping us to rediscover him in simplicity. The big structures are being knocked down, and this is good because they were no longer serving us in the right way. But the Lord is still with us and continues to make himself known to us in each mass, through the Scriptures, through the Eucharist, through each other. However, it is very easy to miss him if we are focused on the wrong thing. If we are only focused on the big impressive (earthly) structures, or only on scandals and how they are reported, then we may think that God is no longer here. But if we are open to seeing him in unexpected places, such as a crib, or in the mass where there are sometimes just a few present, then we will begin to realise that God is just as much with us now, but that perhaps we need to look with new eyes.
This is the beautiful thing about the feast of Christmas. It is so unexpected and so simple. It is definitely not how we would have done it, but it is how God loves to make himself known to us, in simplicity and littleness. It is unimpressive by worldly standards, maybe even disappointing, but God is here and God will always be here as long as we remain open to recognising him.
‘The Word was made flesh and lived among us.’
‘The Light shines in the darkness
and the darkness has not overcome it.’
Wishing you all God's blessing and peace for Christmas and the year ahead.