I had just unwrapped the old Nativity set that traditionally graced the table near the television and my attention was held by it. As each figure emerged from the wrappings, there was something about the expression on the faces of the shepherds and kings and the Holy Family that mesmerized me. The event that drew them marked their faces with awe and wonder, reverence and adoration, peace and joy. They spoke this truth to me as I handled them. Reconstructing the familiar scene did not take long. The placement of each statuette within the setting of the stable, amidst the straw and animal figurines, did not lessen my fascination, but enhanced and, I believe, explained it.
The scene of the Nativity on this particular Christmas, with the world so troubled and anxious, bore a timely and comforting message that slowly opened to me. The solid, fixed tranquillity of the members of the Holy Family veiled the flesh and blood struggles and challenges Joseph, Mary and Jesus faced. The tension between Joseph and Mary occasioned by the extraordinary circumstances surrounding Mary's pregnancy was broken only through divine intervention. As orderly and benign as it seems, the stable was still a stable; an incredibly unsanitary site for any birth, never mind the birth of the Son of God. Yet, a tranquil and constant faith was at the core of their inner peace. Almost immediately, that tranquillity was under assault by the increasingly nervous Herodian rulers. For safety's sake, this young family took upon themselves the mantle of refugee in the land of Egypt until the danger abated.
Little is known of Jesus' youth except that the mystery and the mission of His life became more apparent to Joseph and Mary as time passed. By the beginning of Jesus' public ministry, there is no further mention of Joseph. Thus, one may conclude that Mary faced widowhood with its concomitant concerns. The manner of Jesus and the content of his teaching resulted in increased strife between Him and many of the local religious and civic leaders. Disturbed and even frightened relatives must have besieged Mary with questions and advice regarding her son. She must have born it all with patience and trust. The tortuous journey of the Holy Family reached its denouement in the agonizing and triumphant events of that first Holy Week. In the care of Saint John, Mary's final years of life, although undocumented, had to reflect that same tranquil and constant faith.
The Christmas season is distinguished by the vapors of kindness, patience, and a feeling of good will in the very atmosphere. During such troubled times as these, the example of the Holy Family is particularly pertinent. No matter what terrors surround us or may touch our lives, the all powerful presence of Christ within us is our vindication and our salvation. Our strength of will is founded in the victory of Christ. There is a story of a woman visiting a monastery around Christmas who, on wishing a "Merry Christmas" to one of the monks, received the reply, "May Christ be born in you." In faith, we have the greatest protection from all that the world can do to us and the greatest motivation to look with a deeper love than ever at those with whom we share our lives. These times are laden with opportunities to reassess the true worth of things as well as the ultimate value of our very being.
What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
The first Christmas taught us that we can cultivate an inner peace while living in a world fraught with danger and the unknown. Aware of evil and ever alert to its presence, the person of faith courageously can spread virtue and hope. These are the gifts that water the wasteland of certain souls and make of them the fruitful gardens of the Christmas love they were created to be. These are not meant to be flowery words in tune with the season, but an expression of the basic, persistent mission of God's people to combat the great lack that only faith can satisfy.
And so, the Nativity set stands in its place for all to admire and to contemplate. Christmas shines against the darkness of the world and radiates love and hope within the soul. Christ bestows the power to live in goodness and for goodness. Then and now, Christmas is a time of peace for all of good will.
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