On Thursday 17th December this week, we as a Church cross over from the first half of Advent to the second half. The first half of this season focuses our minds and hearts on the Second Coming of Christ in glory at the end of time. This is what we profess both in the Creed and in the acclamation of faith in the Eucharistic liturgy: ‘Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again’. In the second half of Advent from 17th December until the Christmas Vigil, the focus of the readings is on the first coming of Christ and the circumstances in which he came historically into our world. The Gospels in this time are taken from Matthew and Luke. We hear about his ancestry, God’s approach to Mary through the angel and his physical birth in Bethlehem. For both Matthew and Luke, the historical setting of Jesus’ appearance is very important.
There are many things to ponder when it comes to Jesus’ birth. First, the place of his birth. First century Palestine was a very unstable place both politically and religiously, as it is today. Yet this was the place where the Father sent his Son into the world as the prince of peace. It was like he was sent to where that peace was needed most. Conditions were hard and people lived with much uncertainty. Mary and Joseph knew all about this uncertainty and their own vulnerability. The circumstances of Mary’s pregnancy were strange to say the least. There was confusion, disorientation and yet the invitation to trust what God was up to. Only a short time before the birth, they were not sure where it would happen. After his birth, the holy family had to flee to Egypt to escape a maniac who wanted no one to threaten his power.
It seems that from the very beginning of his earthly life, Jesus was born into uncertainty. I think that this is why the mystery of his birth speaks to us still of negotiating our way through the uncertainties of life with the gift of faith. The God of love sent his Son into an uncertain world out of love and in order to save it. In the words of Pope Benedict XVI: “God is love. But love can also be hated when it challenges us to transcend ourselves. It is not a romantic “good feeling.” Redemption is not “wellness,” it is not about basking in self-indulgence; on the contrary it is a liberation from imprisonment in self-absorption. This liberation comes at a price: the anguish of the Cross. The prophecy of light and that of the Cross belong together.” God’s love that lowered itself to be born into an uncertain world was costly. Yet it was the price that God was willing to pay to be close to us and to show us the way to eternal life.
Fr Billy Swan