In the final reflection of Advent, Paul Opata, a seminarian for the Norwegian diocese of Oslo, who is staying at the Scots College whilst studying in Rome, considers the final days before Christmas.
If somebody were to ask us to give the name of our place of birth, or neighbourhood. To name our Christian community, or our group of friends or family – what would we call them? Would they be places of peace, hope, justice, sharing and love or places of violence, selfishness, envy, injustice, hopelessness and discord?
Bethlehem, a tiny and insignificant place was the birth place of the Messiah who would rule and shepherd Israel in peace. The Messiah did not come from some great prominent place but from Bethlehem, and he did not rule in military splendour but in peace. This is how God works, He works quietly and often behind the scenes with little or no notice. Mary, who was to be the mother of the Saviour was from the small village of Nazareth. You might remember Nathanael’s comment to Philip, when he heard that Jesus was from Nazareth. Can anything good come from Nazareth? (John 1:46) But it was this humble place that God chose to send his angel to a young Maiden to announce the birth of the Prince of Peace.
The readings of this week reminds us of simple but powerful truths that are the real fuel of the Christmas season. The Messiah will not be born in the majesty of Jerusalem but in Bethlehem, a small unknown place. This remind us that God is found in ordinary places, there is no place too small, too dark and no life is too troubled or complicated that the Lord cannot come in. We only need to open ourselves to God in faith and to others in love and charity.
The first thing Mary did after Angel Gabriel visited her, was to think of the needs of her relative Elizabeth who was also pregnant and in need of help. Mary put herself in danger and disregarded her own needs to lend a hand to Elizabeth. Her visit and self-giving was her greatest Christmas gift to Elizabeth.
Christmas Day is just days away. What does Christmas mean to us as Christians? In as much as we enjoy the warm feelings of meeting our families and friends, receiving gifts and partying which is not a bad thing, we need to remember that Christmas celebrations are first and foremost about God, who quietly and humbly entered this world and our lives as our Saviour in the form of a helpless infant. It is about our dependency on God, our vulnerability and service to others, reaching out to those in need, even when it is inconvenient to ourselves. All our celebrations, decorations, receiving and sending gifts are secondary to the true reason of Christmas, which is simply: God became flesh and lived among us. This is what makes the difference. So whether we look forward to big festivities or not, whether we receive lots of gifts or nothing, whether we eat and drink too much or have nothing at all, we can still rejoice that our Lord and Saviour is coming to live amongst us and we can imitate the humble gestures of Mary who set the example of reaching out to the needs of others.