The final hours before Christmas are often anxious ones for me, marked by self-reproach over all the holiday preparations I’ve left until the last minute. One year I was so behind schedule that I put up and decorated my modest tree in just 15 minutes before dashing to join our parish’s choir at the vigil Mass. The result made Charlie Brown’s Christmas sapling look like something from the Manhattan Macy’s windows. (My stressed singing wasn’t much better.)
Aside from the season’s externals, I’m especially rueful over the spiritual progress I’ve failed to make during Advent: prayers and Scripture passages that went unsaid and unread; holy hours too few and too distracted. Rather than steadily journeying to Bethlehem, I’ve delayed my travel with daily cares, frantically seeking some sort of express route when I realize the lateness of the hour.
And so I find myself rather bedraggled at Bethlehem, out of breath and apologizing to Mary and Joseph for my ungainly arrival. Surely I should have fitted myself better to reverence the Christ Child, and I suspect even the sheep are snickering.
Yet I see in Mary’s eyes a light of deep welcome as Joseph nods and turns to gaze at Jesus, silently beckoning me to do the same.
Trembling, I kneel on the cold hardness of the cave floor: from the moment of his birth, this Child shares the plight of all the unsheltered who dwell on the margins of our communities.
Scalding at my own sinfulness, I hesitate to lift my eyes to his, but a force beyond me draws them hence. Startled, I realize he is indeed “wrapped in swaddling clothes” (Lk 2:7), limbs bound in strips of cloth that foreshadow the day of his burial, as St. Gregory Nazianzen discerned.
Having drawn only his first breaths, this Child, then, mysteriously knows my frailties – my pride, my selfishness, my covetousness, my fears, my wounds. His freshly opened eyes had already beheld them before the world was made, for he himself was its Creator and mine. And still he searches me out, his mighty love – which will compel him to die for me – a magnetism no mortal can resist, except at the cost of one’s very soul.
Once grown, this same Child would one day speak the words his infant eyes now proclaim: “Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and I will not reject anyone who comes to me, because I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me” (Jn 6:37-38).
Brokenhearted, ashamed, betrayed, disillusioned, confused, frightened, addicted – come then, just as you are, to Bethlehem, to this Child who awaits you in the darkest of your nights. There is still time; make haste. Embrace him, and be embraced by a love that will take your breath away and give you his own: the breath of his everlasting life.
Gina Christian is a senior content producer at CatholicPhilly.com, host of the Inside CatholicPhilly.com podcast and author of the forthcoming book “Stations of the Cross for Sexual Abuse Survivors.” Follow her on Twitter at @GinaJesseReina.
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