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Christmas Presence
Christmas Presence

The Poverty of Christmas

Monday, December 20, 2021

Father Richard reminds us of the startling realities of the first Christmas:

There’s really nothing necessarily pretty about the first Christmas. We have Joseph breaking the law, knowing what he should do with a seemingly “adulterous woman,” but he doesn’t divorce Mary as the Law clearly tells him to do, even though he has no direct way of knowing that the baby was conceived by the Holy Spirit [Matthew 1:18–24]. It can certainly lead us to wonder why so much of Christianity became so legalistic when we have at its very beginning a man who breaks the law to protect the dignity of the woman he loves. Then we clearly have a couple that is homeless and soon to be refugees or immigrants in their flight to Egypt shortly after Jesus’ birth [Matthew 2:13–15].

So where is this God revealing God’s self? Certainly not in the “safe” world, but at the edge, at the bottom, among those people and places where we don’t want to find God, where we don’t look for God, where we don’t expect God. The way we’ve shaped Christianity, one would think it was all about being nice and middle class and “normal” and under the law. In the Gospels, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph are none of those things, so they might just be telling us we should be looking elsewhere for our status and dignity. Maybe the reason that our knowledge of God is so limited is because we’ve been looking for God in places we consider nice and pretty. Instead, God chooses the ordinary and messy.

Dorothy Day (1897–1980), founder of the Catholic Worker, writes:

It would be foolish to pretend that it is always easy to remember [that Christ is present in the ordinary stranger]. . . . If Mary had appeared in Bethlehem clothed, as St. John says, with the sun, a crown of twelve stars on her head, and the moon under her feet [Revelation 12:1], then people would have fought to make room for her. But that was not God’s way for her, nor is it Christ’s way for Himself, now when He is disguised under every type of humanity that treads the earth. [1]

Father Richard continues:

What is our story as Christians? God being totally vulnerable, totally poor, a little child. If we’re honest, this is not a fitting image for God. It’s telling us right away that God is not who we think God is! Sadly, most people’s image of God is jolly Santa, making a list and checking it twice, finding out who’s naughty or nice. It’s certainly not this humble, helpless baby who has come to love us in ways that we’re not ready to be loved.

What this feast tells us is that reality, at its deepest foundation, is good, even “very good.” The divine is hidden quietly inside the human. The holy is hidden in the physical and the material. Therefore, we have every reason to live in hope and trust and confidence.

[1] Dorothy Day, “Room for Christ,” Selected Writings: By Little and by Little, ed. Robert Ellsberg (Orbis Books: 1992), 96.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, “The Great Embodiment,” homily, December 25, 2015.

Story from Our Community:
We are all called to be Mary. Our job is willingness; God’s job is transformation. I have my sister’s beautiful Nativity scene displayed in my living room—I often gaze at it and the word that comes to me is “vulnerability.” Vulnerability is very challenging but vital to spiritual growth. —Carol C.

Learn more about the Daily Meditations editorial team.

Image credit: Nicholas Kramer, Untitled (detail), 2021, photograph, Seattle. Used with permission.
Image inspiration: Jesus came as an ordinary person. This small, simple, beautiful bud—with its extraordinary ordinariness—reminds us to see the goodness in creation and be present to this moment, right here, right now.
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