Brawn would serve better in dark days. A warrior-king, fierce and just, with a gleaming sword to rally the oppressed, and perhaps a little gold in the treasury. But no. A common child, born in a barn, for mothers everywhere to chide. A wriggling newborn, helpless and purple, soiling the straw of a feeding trough, bloodying the stainless white of his mother’s peasant shift and the hard unkingly hands of his carpenter stepfather. Joseph, right? All trade and no talents, that one—David’s line has grown thin indeed. And no place to call home. Bound for Egypt, on an ass.
I wrote the words above three Christmases ago, shaking my head in wonder at the unearned gifts we had received in the previous few years. We had miscarried in November 2010, and even in our heartache, had been pressed by our older children to try again. We then had Lily and watched as our family reformed around this tiny monsterpiece. After more than a decade of married life, we had finally brought our marriage into conformity with all of the Church’s teachings and had been dismantled and rebuilt in God’s image: a life-giving communion of love.
I hadn’t seen that coming…but then, who does when it comes to God? Who would have imagined that the Lord of the Universe would enflesh Himself and be born under questionable circumstances to an unknown Jewish girl and her working-class husband? Who would have expected that the promised king would show us how to die in this world that we may live forever with Him in the next?
We know these stories by heart—so when they fail to surprise us, we must make a concerted effort to listen with new ears and a renewed spirit. To that end, let’s open one early gift together: the gift of God’s forgiveness. Next Monday, Dec. 22, at 7 p.m., we will host our annual Advent penance service here at the church. This is a great opportunity to go to confession as a family and to pray for, and be lifted up in prayer by, our parish community. Let’s unburden ourselves of all those times in the past year in which we’ve failed to look with joy and wonder at the blessings in our lives and the mystery of our salvation; of all the times we’ve failed to love others as God does or doubted His mercy for us; of all the times we’ve watched the world unfolding and despaired, if only for a moment.
We wander this world, like Joseph and Mary, as unlikely saints. But God is real. Christ is real, and He’s present in the Church and in the sacraments. Let us take a step toward the holiness He desires and open ourselves fully to His joy, grace, and mercy in time for Christmas.
Blogger’s Note: This article appears in the Sunday, Dec. 21, church bulletin .