Monday, January 3, 2011

We Are Not Alone

So I was driving...saying the Rosary...contemplating the Joyful Mysteries (The Annunciation, The Visitation, the Birth of Jesus, the Presentation, and Finding Jesus in the Temple)...and like a slow but steady dawned on me that one of the great messages of Christmas is that we are not alone. In this crazy, non-stop, increasingly impersonal and isolated world...we are not alone. First and foremost, God drew closer to us than He ever had before through His Son.
"The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel"--which means, "God with us" Matthew 1:23.
From now matter what mattered where we were or what we did...God would be present...He would be real...He would be close...He would be with us. But the Christmas story shows that God would be present not in some abstract, ethereal sort of way...but with our lives...bring comfort and reassurance when we needed it. Just look at Mary.

It isn't difficult to imagine how Mary could have felt very alone in her situation. She was carrying a child, conceived not by her husband...or any man...but by the Holy Spirit, and this child was not simply any child...but God's Son. I think it is safe to say that's a pretty unique that most people could not relate to...even if it was possible to tell people about it...which I have to think really wasn't possible. In fact, it seems likely that if she had openly shared her story, the religious leaders of the day would have brought her up on charges of blasphemy...and possibly had her killed. No, this miraculous Incarnation was something Mary would have to endure on her own...or would she?

Mary had to wonder what Joseph would do when she told him her story. Since he was a righteous man, she had every reason to think he would divorce her...and she couldn't blame him. But God intervened...He spoke to Joseph and assured him that Mary was telling the truth...and that He should not fear taking her as his wife. And in doing that, not only did God provide an earthly father for Jesus...and avoid scandal for Mary...but He also assured Mary that she would have a partner...a husband...someone to lean on and to watch out for her. He assured her that she would not be alone.

But of course Joseph was a man...and he could only empathize so much with being pregnant...from a miraculous conception. And besides, he wasn't the one that people were staring at. Despite their keeping their story doubt rumors spread...and you have to think Mary was often the center of conversation...probably unflattering conversation. On top of that, she herself must have struggled with the craziness of it all. Why her? Why a baby? Why would God send His Son to be born here? It was simply too incredible. Who could blame Mary if she had doubts...if she questioned whether God was really going to do this? But Mary wasn't the first time God orchestrated a miraculous birth.

Certainly it was no coincidence that the mother of the one who would pave the way for Jesus....the prophet of God who would cry out in the wilderness and call people to repent...was Mary's cousin, Elizabeth. I mean surely it could have been any woman...but God chose Elizabeth...Elizabeth who was very old...well beyond child-bearing years. And Mary...Elizabeth was called to trust in God's Word. Despite all logic...and against all odds (and biology)...Elizabeth would have a child. There is no question it was hard to believe. In fact, Elizabeth's husband, Zechariah, was unable to speak until his son was born because he doubted the words of God's angel. But God did keep His Word...and their son, John the Baptist, was born. And in so doing, God not only provided this world a prophet...and Jesus a herald, but He gave Mary someone who could understand what she was experiencing...someone who could appreciate what it was like to be trusting God for a miracle. Yes, by choosing Elizabeth to be the mother of John the Baptist, God also assured Mary that she was not alone.

Finally, alone in the stable, with a newborn baby sleeping in a manger, probably shivering from both the cold and exhaustion, Mary and Joseph tried to drink it all in. Here was this promised child...this Holy One of God...this miraculous baby...and they were in a stable...surrounded by animals...essentially invisible to the world. Not the sort of arrival one would expect for the Son of God. What was the point? What were they suppose to do now? Why was this child born? Was this really God's Son? I can imagine all these questions swirling around in their heads. And once again, God reassures. While Mary was going through labor and giving birth to Jesus, God's angels were announcing the arrival of His Son to the shepards in the fields. They proclaimed this miraculous gift God had given the world and told them where they could find this Holy Child. And so Mary and Joseph didn't really have long to toil in their questions and doubts before the shepards arrived. They came and worshiped at the manger. And then they told others...and others came. And soon Mary and Joseph were witness to the first worship service for their son. And not only did God do all this to announce to the world the gift of His Son...but He did it also to assure Mary and Joseph...they were not alone.

And so as we move toward the end of the Christmas season, I see that one of the messages we need to be sure to carry with us is that God is here...He loves us...He is with us...and because of His matter where we matter what situation we find ourselves matter what we have done (or failed to do)...God is with us...and we need not fear. We are not alone.

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