Stepping Beyond – The crib into today’s messy world and Conclusion
We will start the session with a reading from the Gospel of Luke.
Luke 2:15-20 NRSV
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us."
So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.
When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child;
and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.
But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.
The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
“Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place.” What better way to pray, than taking some time to look at the scene of the birth of Jesus and to go to Bethlehem? Take the image on a Christmas card, or spend time before the crib you have in your house or in your church, or look for a nativity scene on the internet. What is it like to “go now to Bethlehem?”.
What strikes me most when I look at the scene of the nativity? Above all the persons, Jesus, just born, looking like every other new-born, beautiful but so tiny, totally dependent on others. Mary, his mother, like every other mother who has just given birth, tired yet unimaginably happy. Joseph, full of wonder at what has just happened, so happy for doing what he was asked to do by the angel. The shepherds, simple, poor people, still amazed at the vision of the angels and the news that they had just heard. Everyone in this crib scene was called to step beyond their own ways, their own road, and their ways of thinking for the greater glory of God. How was this possible? They were open to the way of love and trusted in the one who guided them.
I put myself in the poor stable. I can feel the joy and love, the deep peace, the wonder. But also the utter poverty, the darkness, the strangeness, the unpleasant smell of animals and wet hay. Moreover, this Saviour, the one who fulfils God’s promises, is born in great poverty, outside of his own town, not even in a home or an inn, but in an animals’ stable. How does this impact on me today?
We remember the words of the angel ‘Do not be afraid; for see - I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord.’
Many parts of our world are in a real mess now. Our world often looks and feels and smells like the stable of Bethlehem. Some parts of my life may be messy too. I stay with a word or image that strikes me most, as I ask myself whether the birth of Jesus is for me good news of great joy. I reflect on the fact that I have been given a Saviour, one who makes up for my shortcomings and those of the world.
As we conclude our reflections on Fratelli Tutti we are reminded that after their encounter at the stable in Bethlehem “the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told to them”. The shepherds were stepping beyond the crib at Bethlehem into today's messy world. We are called to do the same by reaching out in fraternity and social fellowship to all our brothers and sisters that we meet as we return along the road.
Pope Francis invites us to remember “human beings are so made that they cannot live, develop and find fulfilment except in the sincere gift of self to others. No one can experience the true beauty of life without relating to others, without having real faces to love. (FT87). Love also impels us towards universal communion. No one can mature or find fulfilment by withdrawing from others. By its very nature, love calls for growth in openness and the ability to accept others.” (FT95).
Over these weeks of Advent we have been invited to listen to the words of Pope Francis as he encourages us to walk "alongside the poor, the abandoned, the sick, the discarded, the last." We have been encouraged to step beyond ourselves, and in following the example of St Francis of Assisi to have a "heart without boundaries, capable of going beyond the distances due to origin, nationality, colour or religion, open to foreigners”, open to all. (FT3).
We have been accompanied on this journey by many key people in the Advent story. They were also called to move out of their comfort zones and to step beyond themselves in embracing a new way, one which ultimately brought them to the humble stable where the birth of a child brought the fulfillment of salvation for all people. They continue to walk with us now as we open our hearts and reach out in love to our brothers and sisters. O Come O Come Emmanuel, God is with us.
O God, Trinity of love,
from the profound communion of your divine life,
pour out upon us a torrent of fraternal love.
Grant us the love reflected in the actions of Jesus,
in his family of Nazareth,
and in the early Christian community.
Grant that we Christians may live the Gospel,
discovering Christ in each human being,
recognizing him crucified
in the sufferings of the abandoned
and forgotten of our world,
and risen in each brother or sister
who makes a new start.
Come, Holy Spirit, show us your beauty,
reflected in all the peoples of the earth,
so that we may discover anew
that all are important and all are necessary,
different faces of the one humanity
that God so loves. Amen.
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