By Matt Janeczko, OFM Cap.
Just a few hours before Mass, two friends from college texted me a picture of their first child, born on Christmas Eve. Who does she look like? they asked. How in the world should I know? (I’m a thirty year old priest and don’t have much expertise in these things.)
But, this is an experience we all have: do you have your mother’s ears or your father’s nose? We always seem to ask or are asked questions like these. When I was younger and threw a temper tantrum, my parents would ask each other (quite seriously it seemed): where did he learn this?
We can ask ourselves the same question after hearing the Gospel. On this Christmas, who have we looked like over the past year?
Do we look like the Joseph and Mary, nervous about the future, unsure about the next step to take in their lives?
Do we look like the great Caesar Augustus, trumpeting his gains, counting all the successes of our lives?
Do we feel like the shepherd, haggard by life’s circumstances, overwhelmed by the demands of our responsibilities?
Are we like the other travelers streaming into Bethlehem, unsure about our place in the world and in our circumstances?
Or, perhaps, we sing about the last year’s successes like angels.
Maybe we even feel like the inn owner, out of room and resources, wondering how both others and we will make ends meet.
Chances are, if we really stop to think about it, we have looked like a combination of all of these people over the past year.
But Christmas isn’t about who we have been in the last year – we don’t walk in here as if we’re baseball cards, statistics regarding goodness, income, or forgiveness written over us (and thank God for that!)
Rather, we come here not because of our past, but because of what God is doing right in our present!
Christmas is, more than anything else, a celebration that God is in our midst, not dependent on what we’ve done, but rather as a statement of his own goodness!
God’s involvement in our lives as the Word made Flesh, as Christ the Lord, as a real human being means that there is nothing in our lives that God cannot understand from personal experience.
Family troubles? In just a few weeks, we’ll hear the Gospel of Luke asking Jesus what had happened when he wandered away in Jerusalem.
Grieving? Jesus wept at the tomb of his friend Lazarus.
Frustrated with the state of the world? It was Jesus who cried for the Holy City, Jerusalem.
Feeling burdened by a lack of resources? Christ multiples loaves and fish.
Know an experience of betrayal? Peter and Judas – enough said.
And yes, even in death, Jesus knows. It is no accident that just above the wood of the manger hangs the wood of the Cross!
In all these things, the reality of God become a human being, the Word jumping down from heaven into our world, we are reminded that God has come to dwell in the world, no more to depart from us.
And so on this Christmas, after we’ve become frustrated with our families (and think, well I don’t look like him!), we can recall that Christmas really isn’t about who we look like in any event. Rather, it’s about who God looks like: you and me.
And that, brothers and sisters, is quite a present from the Lord indeed.