The Christmas season is meant for inexpressible Joy. After all, Advent marks the coming of Jesus Christ to earth to save humanity from the penalty of sin and evil.
It should be a joyous time as we contemplate this colossal event that was so immense that even the heavens were shaken and altered at what was happening. His birth had been foretold by the prophets and awaited by all creation.
Christ was born into poverty; the saviour of the world was placed in a manger, probably little more than a feeding trough for animals. It was all the Blessed Virgin Mary could give him other than to lovingly wrap the holy infant in swaddling clothes.
I have often wondered what she must have thought giving birth in a stable to God's Son. She knew whom she carried and gave birth to. The angel Gabriel previously appeared to her and said,
"Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end" (Luke 1.31-33).
The newborn Son of the Most High was laid in a manger, not a royal nursery, amongst the smell of straw and animals, not surrounded by palace guards. How could this be? A stable manger is a long way from the throne of David. Yet the Blessed Virgin Mary believed and trusted God. (On a different dimension more real than any earthly context I believe that a legion of angels watched over the Christ child.)
When Joseph and Mary presented Jesus in the Temple for circumcision and consecration to the Lord, the righteous and devout old man Simeon was filled with the Holy Spirit. He took the baby in his arms and he prayed to God: "Now Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, . . . a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel."
Simeon turned to Mary and said, "Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed."
So it was - and still is today. Christ reveals thoughts of many hearts of men and women in how they respond to him. His truth brings reconciliation to some and enmity to others. Where people stand with Jesus determines where they stand before God.
As I have said in previous columns, Christ's internal light is the source of revelation to all those who place their lives, faith and hope in him. Those who receive Christ at a deep internal level rise above themselves and are transformed: Their prayer becomes "Thy will be done, not mine."
They mean it. They are content to accept God's will, whatever it might be.
Living in anguish within the will of God is better than living in comfort outside the will of God. It sounds strange, but it is true.
I know this from personal experience. It took much of my life, along with a sea of tears and a trail of regret, to finally learn it. It may seem contradictory, but one's heart can be broken, ripped into shreds, lying open and bleeding while at the same time knowing the peace and joy of Christ. I don't know how it's possible but it does happen. I have experienced it and so have millions of other people.
We sometimes witness this apparent human contradiction at the deathbed of a Christian. He may be racked with illness or pain and sad to leave his family. Yet there is joyous expectation of eternity with Christ that overshadows all his earthly concerns.
That brings me back to Christmas. What began in a dank, humble stable 2,000 years ago transformed the world and changed the lives of countless millions of people who believed in Jesus Christ. He gave them power to become children of God.
Throughout history, millions of Christians preferred death rather than renounce the hope they discovered in Christ. His mother became the mother of humanity. The queen of heaven now continually petitions her Son, the King of Kings, on our behalf.
The joy of Christmas has the hope of the ages. The meaning behind Christ's birth can give meaning to our lives and deaths.