PRESENCE NOT PRESENTS
Advent. A time of waiting. A time when the Church invites us to enter into the profound mystery of the Incarnation. For many, preparation for this event is choosing the right presents; decorating the Christmas Tree; selecting the dinner menu; socializing with friends and family. In this hub of activity, our excitement grows and reaches a climax on Christmas day. Twenty-four hours later, often exhausted, life returns to normal, until the cycle begins again the following year. There is nothing wrong in this scenario. If repeated year after year however, it can become superficial.
If we are maturing in our Christian walk, our celebration of Christmas should become a deeper encounter with the Presence of the Christ Child, rather than the holiday we enjoy and the presents we exchange.
A Child is born
Why would God chose to be born as a weak and helpless baby? What mystery is hidden in the Presence of this new born infant birthed in a cave in Bethlehem? Each year we are invited to enter this cave, to feel the earth beneath our feet, to listen to the sounds of the animals, be warmed from their body heat, smell their scents and gaze in wonder upon the couple lovingly attending to the new life lying within the animal trough.
It is only the most hardened of hearts which refuse to soften at the sight of a child newly born into the world and yet, it is this child that has the power to soften their hardened hearts.
This helpless infant represents an unknown future of hope. Contained within His first cry is a voice straining to be heard. A voice with a message to give, love to express, pain to be shared.
In Bethlehem when a strange star was seen in the sky and the busy town filled to capacity with people visiting for the census, how many noticed a little family alone and desperately searching for accommodation? How many noticed an anxious man burdened with the responsibility of imminent parenthood? How many saw and responded to their imminent needs?
The birth of a child is a reminder of the circle of life. While on this earth, we move from birth to death. In the presence of this new born infant of Bethlehem, we see God made Man, unable to survive without the assistance of others. To grow to maturity, He needs to be fed, clothed, nurtured, loved, comforted. It is evident His family provided these needs, for Scripture reveals Jesus grew into a man filled with love, wisdom, compassion, mercy and forgiveness. The first cry He uttered was for his own sustenance. In time, this cry became a voice for all the world to hear and His final cry was not for His own needs, but ours.
Birthing New Traditions
As we prepare for Christmas, can we see beyond the presents, to the Presence of the new born child and enter more deeply into the mystery of His birth? Can we see the needs of others around us? Can we see the homeless, the poor and burdened parents unable to provide for their family during this Season? Are we able to respond in some way to their needs and therefore enter into the mystery of that cave on the holiest of nights? Do we hear the cry of separation, brokenness, loneliness, unforgiveness? Can we respond to this cry and bring the love, comfort, forgiveness and practical help necessary to calm this cry of distress?
Inspired by the Holy Spirit, my husband and I are starting from this year, to create what will hopefully become a new tradition within our family’s Christmas gift-giving to our grandchildren. It’s been said that you only have to repeat an exercise 2 years in a row before a child will expect it to happen in the 3rd year – in other words it takes a brief 3 years to birth a tradition. A Tradition, which through the Grace of God, will have them see beyond the presents they receive for themselves, to the needs of others.
Part of our gifts to them will include a personal gift donation to a refugee. This small monetary gift does not buy extravagant items but necessities for which the recipient needs to live – for example fresh water / blankets / mosquito nets / nappies. Along with each donation, our grandchildren will each receive a card thanking them for their gift, with a picture of the item and a note expressing how it will change the life of the child receiving it.
Gift of God
This very simple exercise (there are many Charity websites offering this service) can teach our children to think of others, be open to sharing and be grateful for what they have. A narrative can be woven into the Christmas day celebrations, remembering the refugee child(ren) in the Thanksgiving prayer at meal time / the evening bedtime prayer. Children learn by example and through repetition, a small gesture such as this, can become an enduring gift for the struggling children of the world.
Teach them now and they will become the future supporters of the poor and vulnerable long after we have entered into eternal glory.
Over 2,000 years ago, in a Bethlehem cave, God was born into this world as a baby, helpless to care for His own needs. Pulitzer prize winning writer, Annie Dillard, suggests that this is how we forever find God in our lives, as a helpless infant lying in the straw whom we need to pick up and nurture – “God’s works are as good as we make them. That God is helpless, our baby to bear, self-abandoned on the doorstep of time, wondered at by cattle and oxen.”
“The Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us.” (John 1:14)
May we draw deeper into the Presence of the Christ Child in those around us, this Christmas Season.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ann Brereton lives in Tasmania, Australia with her husband David of 40 years. Ann’s ministry involves over 40 years in leadership positions including being the first woman National Chairperson of the Australian National Service Committee. She also served as a member of the International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services (ICCRS) situated at the Vatican. She is a mother to 4 sons and grandmother to 6 granddaughters, has lived as a Missionary in Uganda and traveled extensively as a Conference Speaker.