The Christmas Mystery


Christmas is the celebration of a mystery and not merely the celebration of the Birthday of Jesus Christ. Obviously at Christmas our thoughts turn to Bethlehem and all that took place there on that first Christmas night. As Mary and Joseph huddled together around the newborn Child, they were painfully aware of the poverty and discomfort of the shelter for animals they were in, but in stark contrast to that, they faced the awesome mystery of God who had become flesh under their very eyes. It was Emmanuel, God-with-us, who lay in the manger surrounded by animals and the shepherds who had come to pay him homage, as told to them by the angels. The creator God was visibly present within his creation in the Word made flesh. That was the Good News that was announced to the shepherds. And this indeed is the mystery that we seek to grapple with at Christmas as life unfolds before our eyes in its ordinariness. It is the mystery of God who is with us as we continue our journey of life along diverse paths. The joy of Christmas is the awakening to this reality in the heart of life.

Christmas is not a fairy tale of old but a truth that every human being is invited to realize in the depth of his or her being that we are soaked through and through with the presence of God in a most mysterious way. It was not easy for Mary and Joseph to allow this truth to sink into them. It began with the overwhelming challenge offered to them individually to accept into their lives a child born not in the manner of all human beings but through the power of the Holy Spirit. Then they had to make the arduous journey of 70 miles to Bethlehem in the last month of Mary’s pregnancy. The impossible became possible because they put their absolute faith in God setting aside ordinary human reasoning and the tradition they were familiar with, thus making room for God’s mystery to descend into their lives. Mary and Joseph surrendered themselves to the will of God which was not within the range of their understanding. They become witnesses of the union of divinity with humanity in ordinary human life.

The same path is open for us too in order to usher in the joy of Christmas into our lives. We are invited to make way for grace to touch our lives and let God make a breakthrough into our hearts. It is not the entry of someone outside of us but rather it is an awakening to a presence that fills our being all the time. “It is in him that we live, move and have our being (Acts 17:28). Unfortunately, Christians are more accustomed to worship Christ than follow him because that is the usual teaching they are given by the Church. But Jesus had prayed: “that they may be one as we are one, I in them and you in me. Thus they shall reach perfection in unity so that the world shall know that you have sent me…” (Jn: 17:22-23). Nevertheless we human beings continue our lives as if we have a life apart from God and turn to him for help when our resources seem to be exhausted. Our anxieties and fears are fed by this utter lack of awareness of our intimate link with God through Christ. Our mind with its stream of thoughts, emotions and feelings, subject to changing circumstances, keep us in the illusory world of an artificial separation between our impermanent self and God. Christmas invites us to break this separation and begin to live in faith the truth within. However, it does not in any way mean that we are free from the limitations of a contingent world of which our outer self is part. The gospel says: “She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger because there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke. 2: 7). It implies, therefore, that we too shall have to embrace various stages of sufferings in mind and body owing to their contingent nature. It is rightly expressed by Paul in his letter to the Romans: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pangs of childbirth even until now. Not creation alone, but even we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan in our innermost being, eagerly awaiting the day when God will adopt us as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:22-23).

“The false self feels very inadequate”, says Fr. Richard Rohr, “and it is indeed unstable in many ways, which is why we call it false! The false self is overwhelmed with its own unworthiness, psychological wounds, and its passing nature. Only the True Self can dare to believe the Good News of the Gospel, which is actually God-in-you doing the believing. The small, separate self cannot trust such immensity and giftedness.” We consider the Good news to be too good to be true. We are not accustomed to think in terms of God’s mystery being within us because He does not come easily within our perception. Neither are we generally taught in the Church to perceive the presence of God’s mystery within ourselves. Hence we have recourse to the Eucharist to sense that mystery in profound worship of it or we find it in reading the Word of God. But ultimately until the mystery of God is perceived within, it is hardly possible to perceive it outside of ourselves.

We can affirm, however, that God makes it possible to perceive him within ourselves at some time or another. It can be through some experience of ours that leaves us staggering with amazement. It may be a sudden realization of the beauty of nature or the kindness of someone who is a total stranger to us or escaping unscathed through a dangerous situation. We find ourselves awakening to a reality that we had not thought was within our reach. Suddenly God opens our eyes and we sense the hidden reality within ourselves.

Since we tend to associate God with the extraordinary, it is only through divine grace that we can discern the extraordinary in the ordinary. We require tuning into the wave length of God to recognize divinity in what is common place. But once we begin to live in the level playing field with God it is easy to perceive that we are in him. We begin to love ourselves as we can recognize ourselves being loved by God. By the same standards it will be no strain to grant the same inherent dignity to everyone around and love them as we love ourselves.

Christmas means joy and peace to all who possess goodwill regardless of their religion, race or culture because that was the assurance given by the angels. Goodwill is openness to reality as it is and accepting it in its freshness without resistance or desire for change. We stop judging by appearances that may be good or otherwise. In fact God is more often found in persons and events that are plain and common rather than special. This is amply clear to us in the Christmas story. Around the crib of Bethlehem there was no angelic choirs singing or ministering to Baby Jesus. Only the shepherds heard them. Mary and Joseph had to use their good sense and the available help at hand to keep the Baby warm and comfortable in the crude environment of a cave. When the threat from Herod came the message was conveyed to Joseph in a dream but no angel transported the Holy Family to Egypt. “Joseph took the child and his mother and left that night for Egypt” (Mathew 2:14). That is the ordinary life open to all mortals. Everything looks very ordinary but the hand of God present in it makes it special to the one who has faith. When it becomes the normal disposition of a person, he or she is said to live the truth of the Incarnation. It is authentic Christian life that looks forward eagerly to the Second coming of Christ whenever it may come. Jesus came among us in lowly form so that we too may discover him in humble situations of life when we realize our own smallness. Christmas, then, is not just an event that comes once a year but an ever present openness of the human person to the Divine reality present in every name and form.


Fr. Sebastian Thottippatt

Christmas 2016

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