From rejoicing (Gaudete) to lighting the fourth candle of our Advent wreaths – Christmas is soon. Our souls remain expectant, but perhaps our bodies may be a bit weary and our nerves jittery as we check our Christmas-readiness list. Do you still have presents to buy, houses to clean, travel plans to solidify, guests to prepare for, food to purchase and prepare? It’s a good time to remember that joy and suffering co-mingle in the Nativity story.
Our spirits move joyously to welcome anew the babe of Bethlehem into our homes and hearts. Yet, it is not without hardship. Everyone feels the press of time, and worries: Will I get it all done in time? Exhaustion builds. But the joy of the Nativity story comes packaged with suffering.
No doubt, young Mary had struggled with villager’s questions about her pregnancy and rushed marriage. Joseph first questioned Mary’s integrity, until the angel of his dream assured him. Yet, who would this child of God be? What would their lives be like? How would he be father to God’s son? Mary, so young at 14, had to worry about her high call. Then she had that long journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, bouncing on the back of a wobbly donkey, as she neared the end of her pregnancy. What a grueling journey.
Joseph had to find a room for them in the crowded city. How could he care for his young wife with the birth nearing? Would he find a midwife in this city? They settled in a filthy barnyard, with only the warmth of the animals to mitigate the chill. And then she gave birth. Who helped her in the birth? How would she keep the baby safe, warm and healthy?
Then dirty shepherds came, telling of the heavenly host who touched them with the message of heaven. These were the first visitors to pay homage to the Messiah, the king of the Jews. The star shone above, but could Mary even see that star in its fullness, as she recovered from childbirth in the cave?
Soon three rich men — wise men or kings — from far lands, appeared. They bowed before this baby, and offered him strange gifts: gold for a king, frankincense for the divine, myrrh for burying the dead. Soon after they left, the Holy Family fled in the night to Egypt, amidst the horror of Herod’s massacre of the Holy Innocents.
Our Lord was born in the midst of great suffering. And so, as Christians, we know that the Christian journey necessarily involves suffering. Perhaps we struggle with finances, family strains, getting ready for the festivities. Maybe we’re tired of the secularization of Christmas — the Jingle Bells, “Happy Holidays,” and efforts that suggest a cultural amnesia — that Christ is the reason for the season. Perhaps we struggle with habitual sin or other obstacles to our spiritual growth.
As Christians we expect suffering. Suffering humbles us. It helps us learn how to cling to the Lord, He who saves. But it does more than help us individually. It can help others as well, if we offer up our suffering for the specific needs of others, the Holy Souls in Purgatory or just to Holy Mother Church, and add to the treasury of Grace.
Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the land.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the clean in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:1-10)
What are your burdens this Christmas? Offer them up, and lighten your heart as you prepare to greet the Savior anew.