What is the draw, the attraction of the Christ child?
Who can make kings visit? Turn shepherds into evangelists? Bring amazement to those who hear? How could this infant inspire such intensity, both positive and negative?
Remember the kings of those times were not exactly benevolent. Even if these specific Magi were, they were not use to placing themselves in a position of condescension – especially to an infant.
The shepherds, as Aquinas spoke of them, they were to the desert what the tax collectors were to the city. They were not the image of the loving good shepherd we have in Jesus, they were more like outcasts and loners. Poor, yes, but misfits, often antagonistic to all but their own. Much like ourselves….
So again, what is the draw, the attraction of the Christ child?
Imagine the newborn Jesus in the manger. See him in His full fleshy humanness. See His folds of skin that newborns abound in, see His huge eyes searching, trying to focus. See His wobbly head, His tiny fingers and toes. Hear His cries of hunger, of cold, of needing His mother. Is this the one the star shines upon? Is this really the sign we are waiting? What can He possibly do for us?
One word: Love.
Love Incarnate arrived that first Christmas morn. He came in love, for love and He came as love. He came so we might love Him. Love is the attraction, love is the draw. This love was, is and will always be, the sign.
From his Midnight Christmas Mass Homily, Pope Benedict XVI said, “God’s sign is a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. Nothing miraculous, nothing extraordinary, nothing magnificent is given to the shepherds as a sign. All they will see is a child wrapped in swaddling clothes, one who, like all children, needs a mother’s care…God ’s sign is the baby in need of help and in poverty…God’s sign is that he makes himself small for us. This is how he reigns. He does not come with power and outward splendor. He comes as a baby, defenseless and in need of our help. He does not want to overwhelm us with his strength. He takes away our fear of his greatness. He asks for our love: so he makes himself a child. God made Himself small so that we could understand him, welcome him, and love him.”
This Christmas season, will there be room in your heart for Jesus? Amidst the busyness, the festivities, the gifts, the greetings, the visits, this question get right to the core. Will I allow Jesus to be born in the Inn of my heart this Christmas, or will I force Him to be born in the stable outside my heart? You get to choose which sign adorns your heart, Vacancy or No Vacancy, and which kingdom you will honor. Christ’s coming had two opposite effects upon the people of His time and in does in our time as well. Consider:
Mary had room. She said yes. She humbled herself. She obeyed. She surrendered. She pondered. She trusted. Joseph, because he feared, at first thought he had no room for Jesus. After the angel appeared to him he realized he did have room for Jesus. The shepherds had room for Jesus. They heard the message, acted upon it, went to see Jesus, spread the good news, returned home and gave glory and praise to God. The three kings had room for Jesus, traveling many miles and months to pay homage to the one King. By God’s grace they did not fear; they chose to embrace God’s will.
On the other hand, the inn keepers had no room for Jesus. They said no to love. King Herod had no room for Jesus in his heart; Herod feared Him and tried to kill Him. The chief priests and the scribes, whom Herod gathered together to determine if this Jesus could be king, didn’t bother to see for themselves if the king was born. His own people had no room for Jesus, eventually putting Him to death. Whether out of fear, indifference, envy, pettiness or arrogance, they chose to ignore God’s will.
In many ways, that is ancient, though obviously important, history. What is relevant today and no less important is this: Do you have room for Jesus today? Will you allow Jesus to be born in your heart this Christmas? Will you allow Jesus to enter into your heart and change it? It’s still early, we have time to prepare.
How do you prepare your heart to receive Jesus? Three simple steps. Prepare to receive our Lady into your heart first. Then beg God for the grace of the Holy Spirit to visit your heart. Then move forward with expectant faith and await the arrival of the King.
From O Little Town of Bethlehem
O Holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us we pray;
Cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!
Remind yourself that Jesus is waiting to be born in you. He wants to come into your heart, into your life and live with you always. His peace will be your present. His Body and Blood will be your feast. He’ll abide in you and abound in you, if you’ll make room for Him this Christmas.
In light of recent events, (take your pick among a seemingly endless number of tragedies), we probably all have uttered something like, “What is going on here?” or “What is this world coming to?” possibly followed by, “When are things going to get better?” The truth is things are not going to get better, that is, not until we get better.
If you are waiting on the world to change, as the title of a recent song suggests, you will have a long, long wait. We don’t realize, like Saint Augustine did, that we are our world. He said, "The times are bad! The times are troublesome!" This is what humans say. But we are our times. Let us live well and our times will be good. Such as we are, such are our times.
It is time to stop blaming “them” and start taking responsibility. We, you and I, are our culture. We are our times. We are responsible. It is up to us to change. It is not up to "them." "They" aren’t going to change until we do. Why should they? And, really, it’s not even we, it is me.
I need to stop my sinning. I need to avoid the near occasion of sin. I need to purify my heart, mind and body. I need to recommit to a daily prayer life. I need to return to the sacraments. I need to rededicate myself to my faith. And I need to beg God for the grace to do be able to do so. Beg Him for His mercy and forgiveness. I need to start living for Him and not for myself.
Saint John Vianney reminds us that “We must never lose sight of the fact that we are either saints or outcasts, that we must live for heaven or hell; there is no middle path in this. You either belong wholly to the world or wholly to God. If people would do for God what they do for the world, what a great number of Christians would go to heaven.”
The corollary to that is if we continue to do for the world and not for God, what a great number of Christians will end up in Hell. It need not come to that. The truth is if we, as Catholics, ever lived our faith as we are called to live our faith, the world would change and it would change radically. The fire of His love would burn in us and through us. As Saint Catherine of Siena said, "If you are what you should be, you will set the world ablaze"
In fact, the world is waiting for us to get up off of our collective rear ends and lead so they can follow. The light of Christ’s fire burning in us will light the way for the world to emerge from the darkness. We were made for greatness, for God’s glory. One by one we would become a force to be reckoned with. An army of truth and love can overcome any enemy. Lukewarmness would be replaced with zeal for souls, anger with charity, envy with generosity, pride with humility, evil with good.
If as you read through this, you found yourself agreeing with the sentiment, then I have one final question for you, “What are you waiting for?”
One false construct of love (there are many) is the notion of being loveable. Too many of us are more concerned about being loveable then we are about loving.
Loveable is concerned about being loved in return. It wants to know that it is appreciated, acknowledged and reciprocated. True love loves without regard for being loved in return. Jesus Christ crucified did not seek to know from His Father how many of us would accept His act of love. He simply loved.
Lovable cares about being understood. Love simply speaks the truth. Lovable pleases and placates. Love elevates those who give it and receive it. Lovable will not die for others; it can't for it is selfish. Love, by its very nature lives to die for others; it is selfless. Lovable cannot inspire others, only intoxicate them. Love inspires and nourishes souls.
Pope Benedict XVI spoke these words, “Only when someone values love more than life, that is, only where someone is ready to put life second to love, for the sake of love, can love be stronger and more than death.”
Lovable tries to control the landscape and orchestrate everything. Love simply loves. Lovable is disposable. Love is eternal. Lovable can never fully connect, will never be vulnerable, will never trust because lovable is a lie. Love is truth.
Lovable is lukewarm. Lovable is inauthentic. Lovable flees if it's not appreciated. Lovable runs away when the inevitable cross comes. Love is zealous for the things of God, love is authentic, love remains on the cross and dies. Lovable is the crowds of Palm Sunday. Love is Mary and John at the foot of the cross on Good Friday. The end of loveable is death. The end of love is new life.
“Love attracts love” says Saint Catherine of Siena. Sadly, the opposite is also true, loveable attracts loveable. The choice is ours. Do we want to be the crowd of Palm Sunday or the few of Good Friday? Do we want to be Judas or Jesus? Do we want to be love or be lovable?