As cute as our manger scenes may be, the first Christmas was anything but cute. In fact, our pictures, paintings, and Hallmark cards may have sugar-coated our collective imaginations, covering an otherwise dismal scene in history with cinnamon, spice, and everything nice.
History tells us that Jesus was born into dangerous circumstances. His mother Mary, who would have been in her early teenage years at the time, could have been stoned to death under Mosaic Law for being an unwed mother. Explaining to family and friends that her child was from God would have inevitably drawn responses ranging from laughter to ridicule to hatred. Furthermore, having been warned in a dream, Joseph fled with Mary, fearing for their lives. Ultimately, after having been denied welcome by homeowners and innkeepers, Mary and Joseph settled into a stable, filled with dirty and smelly animals. Brought into this world by refugees, who were shunned, marginalized, and fleeing from persecution, Jesus was born into poverty and political danger.
What, then, is the meaning of Christmas? This story tells us that God chooses to enter into our world and into our hearts, in those places we least expect. God comes into our lives, wherever there is pain, suffering, injustice, hatred, anger, and evil. It is precisely in these places, where we are least likely to recognize it, that God is most present and real. This is the great paradox of Christmas as well as the Crucifixion. It is perhaps why the innkeepers so quickly closed their doors to Mary and Joseph.
Here at Hilbert, even as we enjoy the comforts and coziness of the season, we cannot avert our eyes from the people and places that cause us discomfort. Our Catholic, Franciscan tradition invites us to see the presence of God in our midst. And so, are we courageous enough embrace the leper? Can we find hope in our dismay? Can we see God in the stranger, the refugee, the persons we dislike, or the students that trouble us? Can we welcome Christ to be born in the weaknesses and dark corners of our hearts?
May the eyes of our hearts always be open to find God in the places we least expect. May we always dare to hope and confidently proclaim Emmanuel – God is with us!