“Are you the one who is to come,
or must we wait for someone else?’”
In recent days we have recorded the Homily Studio podcasts for the Christmas season. Over the past eighteen months this weekly FFF podcast offering, a conversation between four people reflecting on the scriptures of the following Sunday, has for me personally provided new insights and great breadth and depth of inspiration.
Many of our conversations for the final Sundays of Advent and the Masses of the Christmas season have reflected on the joy, the hope, the suffering and anxiety of the scriptural accounts of the birth of Jesus.
Surely the birth of Jesus would bring only joy and hope? Isn’t this the season of good-will and peace for all people?
Well… joy, hope, good-will and peace wasn’t the full picture of the experience of Mary and Joseph, on the road and homeless at the time of their son’s birth and soon escaping the slaughter of innocent children to a distant country where they lived for at least a few months as refugees.
There is a little-known Christmas carol, Sing Lullaby, that tells of the birth of Jesus grounded in earthly reality: “soon will come bitter grief and weeping…soon comes the cross, the nails, the piercing then in the grave at last reposing… dreaming of Easter, gladsome morning, conquering death its bondage breaking.”
Christmas is not a time of pretending that all as we want it to be. The fact is that all is not well, and we know it, we feel it, and perhaps we experience it more over the Christmas season than at any other time.
The once-a-year family gatherings bring to the surface unresolved tensions. That’s not easy.
Remembering Christmases past with loved ones brings pain and renewed grief for those who spend these days alone.
With more time (in these vacation days) to ponder, all the stuff we might ignore or repress in months of work and study busy-ness comes to our consciousness. That doesn’t always feel good.
But it is my reality, and while my reality is often a problem for me, it is no problem for God since my reality is the only place Jesus can be God-with-me.
John of the Cross (1542 -14 December 1591) is one of our greatest teachers on the co-existence of pleasure and pain, hope and despair, joy and suffering. John often wrote about this using the metaphor of light and darkness,
If we fall into the trap of equating the presence of God only with what feels good, and label what doesn’t feel great as being of the evil one, we remain fickle children in faith.
The mature disciple encounters Jesus in the unexpected, unwarranted and unlikely moments and people in each day.
John the Baptist suggests that those who are seeking to identify Jesus (not an easy task since so many present themselves as God-with-us) need only to take note of what they see and hear.
With this desire to see and hear and touch Jesus we quickly notice that Jesus is present not only when all is well for us, but especially in life’s stresses, griefs and anxieties.
“There is another reason also why the soul has traveled safely in this obscurity; it has suffered: for the way of suffering is safer, and also more profitable, than that of rejoicing and of action. In suffering God gives strength, but in action and in joy the soul does but show its own weakness and imperfections. And in suffering, the soul practices and acquires virtue, and becomes pure, wiser, and more cautious.”