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nativity

Precious lessons from the stable of the Lord’s birth

The humble circumstances of Christ's birth have much to show us about the nature of God, writes Fr Michael Kane.

This Advent it’s been great to see a resurgence of the tradition of displaying cribs at home. Lots of parishioners have been flooding our parish shop to pick up the nativity figures to display in a prominent place at home.

It is especially heart-warming to hear of young children excited to get home and unwrap the little statues and to fix them in place, with the empty manger waiting to be filled on Christmas Day.

Of course, we give prominence to the nativity scene because of the many lessons which shine from that humble stable. It is a powerful symbol of family love in the face of rejection and adversity. It is also a powerful pro-life symbol which celebrates the triumph of new life from the most difficult of circumstances. It is the culmination of Mary’s ‘yes’ to the will of God in her life; a lesson on humility and acceptance.

 

Message

But there is yet another message which emanates from the Bethlehem stable.

The way God chooses to enter human history tells us so much about Him.

When we think of the baby Jesus lying in the manger it’s hard to imagine a God who is distant or impersonal, one who is so full of power that he is beyond our reach.

That is not the God I believe in, not the God revealed to us in Jesus Christ, revealed as the most humble being imaginable: a little baby, reliant on others for everything.

Looking into the stable we begin to appreciate that God doesn’t intend to overcome us with His power, He doesn’t want to make us fearful, but He comes as a defenceless little baby in need of our help, to show us that God is no longer distant, no longer beyond the grasp of the human heart.

 

Loved and cherished

In other words, Jesus becomes Emmanuel ‘God-with-us’ to tell us that God has a human face, and a beating heart, and He carries the message that each of us are loved and cherished. So God in Jesus Christ dispels the belief that God is far from us. This lesson, too, emerges from the stable of Bethlehem.

I think, more than anything, it’s the stark simplicity of the scene which captures our attention; its simplicity feeds our warmest emotions. God’s only Son was born in the midst of extreme poverty.

Mary and Joseph laid him in a feeding trough for a bed, among the animals that kept him warm. It was hardly the setting they had in mind to welcome God’s only Son.

Yet the humble circumstances of the Lord’s birth continue to touch the hearts of believers two thousand years on. God entered this world without revealing the majesty of his divine nature, to teach the world an extremely important lesson.

 

Struggle

In our world of plenty, God constantly reminds us that He is to be found in a particular way among the poor and lowly. The Lord’s earthly home was a smelly stable in the midst of poverty and struggle. This was the life he knew.

For this reason the Lord remains especially close to those who have found no room at the inn of this world: the hungry and homeless, those who are cold and lonely.

He lives among the poorest of the poor and suffers alongside them on a daily basis, yet few see his face in the dejected of this world.

Such a reflection may be uncomfortable for many of us who do not live the poverty which Christ knew. Our plenty can seem like an affront to the Lord’s poverty since we generally live comfortable lives, abundant in so many different ways.

 

Face of Christ

Jesus asks us not to become blind or indifferent to the suffering around us. He invites us to find the face of Christ in the poor and vulnerable, in the weak and the marginalised. The world’s forgotten should be our priority this Christmas.

The Lord is asking us to find a place for them to rest their wearied heads.

Our Church constantly extends a hand of friendship to those who struggle at this time of year and throughout the year. From food banks to soup kitchens, toy appeals to homeless shelters, we try to find ways of helping Christ in others in our parishes.

It is truly the Gospel in action when we engage in this way.

As we prepare to welcome the infant of Bethlehem, may we have eyes to see need and to respond with open and generous hearts.

We may strive to serve Christ by serving others.

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