In the final post in our series of Advent reflections, Michael Kearns of the Diocese of Galloway reflects on the meaning of Christmas.
In the first reading at Mass today, the prophet Micah prophesies about the birth of the Messiah, quickly pointing out that he will be born in poverty, in an insignificant place; Bethlehem, we hear, is “the least of the clans”. Now if, like me, you come from North Ayrshire – the centre of the known universe – it might be hard to conceive of what might make a place or a people insignificant, “the least”, or why God should choose to be born there. What can this tell us about the meaning of Christmas?
In today’s Gospel, we hear about the event known to most of us as the Visitation. This is undoubtedly a beautiful moment, even if it is a little strange. Immediately after an angel has appeared in her kitchen to tell her that she will conceive and give birth to the Son of God, Mary thinks first of her cousin, Elizabeth. Now, I don’t think Mary’s journey to the hills will have been quite as stressful as flying out of Ciampino Airport the weekend before Christmas, but it will have been a hassle nevertheless. Yet here is someone who thinks never of herself but always of another who might be in need. What can this tell us about the meaning of Christmas?
Christmas is when God became one of us, but what does he want this year as a present from us in return? Not much, as we hear in today’s other reading: only for us to do his will, which quite simply is to love. He is love. The lives of Jesus and his mother exemplify love. And we can love the most where there’s the greatest need for it. Among the poor, the insignificant, “the least”.
We’re quite good at that at Christmas. It’s the time of the year with the highest rates of charitable giving. But January and February can be the lowest.
God became one of us at Christmas and it changed the world forever. We hear this story every year, but that doesn’t mean that, today, we can’t let it change our world, and our lives. We’ll do that by doing God’s will: by loving and caring for the poor, the insignificant, and the least, not just at this time of year, but as often and as much as we can. I think that’s the meaning of Christmas.