Thomas Griffin 12/24/20 – ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED FOR THE LONG ISLAND CATHOLIC
“There was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7). Here we have the reasoning for why the newborn Jesus is laid in a manger, a feeding box for animals, directly after his birth. Christ was born in quiet isolation because no one made room for him, no one was willing to fit him in. The Holy Family was an afterthought on that first Christmas; they were viewed as insignificant, not necessary. The single most challenging aspect of Christmas 2020, and every Christmas of our life for that matter, is not allowing a repeat regarding this aspect of the original Silent Night.
Faith is defined by relationship. Relationships are difficult, messy and often chaotic during any period of time, but this year we all have more valid excuses than ever for overlooking what we celebrate on Christmas. Our families and communities have experienced the loss of loved ones, the separation from in-person worship, and the unknown outcomes of our finances and futures as we navigate these challenging times. And yet, December 25th will come and go. The true question for every Catholic in the present moment is simple. Will I be the one to make room for God?
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI noted that the manger and details of Christ’s birth reveal a pivotal insight into how humanity views God: “From the moment of his birth he belongs outside the realm of what is important and powerful in worldly terms. Yet it is this unimportant and powerless child that proves to be the truly powerful one, the one on whom ultimately everything depends.” How can we best give Christ the pride of place? Doing so is easier said than done, but here are some concrete ways we can develop habits which leave us more open to hearing God when he walks by and wants into our lives.
We work so hard to provide for our families, do well in school, and make Christmas time an enjoyable holiday but how can we better prepare for Christ being born? How can we ensure that the Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero and Prince of Peace reigns concretely in our lives? Each day, make the first thing you do when you wake up and the last thing you do before you close your eyes for sleep a turn to God in prayer. Memorize a Bible verse, say an Our Father or Hail Mary, or simply ask Jesus for aid during your day. Each night pray with your spouse and children or on your own calling to mind what you’re thankful for on that day along with how you can do better during the next.
Most importantly, ask Jesus Christ to invade your heart in a manner which radically changes your outlook on life. St. John Paul II is known to have said constantly that “To meet another person is to encounter the living God.” The Incarnation is the proof which makes this claim more radical and critical. The dignity of each human person is infinite because we are made in God’s image and likeness and because he became one of us. This child who is born writes the blueprint for our relationships. “God becomes one of us, so that we might become like God,” says St. Irenaeus. When we pay close attention to his work, life and love we are better able to bring the message of unconditional and sacrificial love to those around us while also viewing faith as a relationship with a real living person, not just an idea.
The more often we invite Christ into our present moment and make room for him, the more able we become to see that each second is a gift from God and an opportunity to catch his gaze directed towards us. The Christian faith is a response to an invitation to a relationship with the living God who exhausts no efforts in his outreach to humanity. He became so fragile and dependent that he was born as an infant, and he became so vulnerable and weak that he was executed by crucifixion. However, the mission of his love remains the same from his first breath on this earth to his last breath on Calvary. God is trying to desperately convince us to trust him and watch for his eyes pierced in our direction. In the manger he looks up in peaceful amazement at our faces, and on the cross he glances downward in agonizing love as he gives his life for you and for me.
The defining moments of anyone’s life revolve around their birth and death. In both instances Jesus desires to grab our attention and show us that being with him transforms everything. Let us use what we have remaining in Advent to prepare for the One who was cast to the side that first Christmas night and let us vow to place God at the center of everything we do knowing that this is the only recipe for a holy Christmas, a transformative New Year, and a joy which can never be taken away.
Thomas Griffin teaches in the Religion Department at a Catholic high school on Long Island and lives with his wife and son. He received a master’s degree in theology and is currently a master’s candidate in philosophy. He writes for several Catholic media outlets.
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