In Advent, we await the second coming of Christ, and we also welcome the ways that God breaks into our lives again and again. We can meet him with the kind of tenderness that stories about his birth and childhood especially evoke in us. The adult Jesus has much to offer, modeling for us what it means to live a good human life. For me, the nativity stories add another dimension and awaken in me a sense of the gift of encountering life that is as fragile and vulnerable as a newborn baby.
Even before Christmas arrives, I sometimes spend time simply imagining being with the baby Jesus or with Mary and Joseph in the days leading up to the birth. In my encounters with the Holy Family in prayer, I also connect my life experiences to the world of the prayer. Imagining those scenes of Mary and Joseph seeking rest when they arrive at Bethlehem, for example, can be a place that I can find rest if I am tired and need to be with God. I have sometimes imagined seeing Mary experiencing the heaviness of pregnancy in its final weeks. Recollection of this brings me back to the last weeks of both times that I was at the same stage with my own children. I remember the weariness of carrying a child, my longing to meet this new being, and all the excitement and trepidation associated with young motherhood. It awakens gratitude in me that I was able to be a mom to two wonderful children and to experience motherhood as a vocation.
When I imagine holding the baby Jesus and take time to breathe in that amazing “new baby” scent or look at his smiling face as he gurgles or sleeps, it increases my tenderness for the person of Jesus. My life as a mom and Jesus’ life become intertwined, and I am reminded of how much I have known Jesus in the many experiences of being a mom. Jesus very likely did the same kinds of messy things that all babies do, like spitting up on Mary’s shoulder! Maybe Jesus sneezed from the smell of the hay. No doubt he cried, like other babies do, to communicate when he needed feeding. The nativity reminds us that we are all human, and even Jesus as the incarnate God lived a fully human life with all its comforts and discomforts. It is an encouragement to me now, too, even when my children are grown, to encounter God in the physicality and the messiness of life.
After praying a scene such as this, I might also later think about others today who seek shelter: those who are without a home, sleeping in tents on the street in my own city, or refugees fleeing war, who want a safe place to live and raise a family. God is present to them as well, and we encounter God when we find ways to be present to, and not to overlook, the most vulnerable amongst us in this Christmas season. After all, God made God’s self to be a vulnerable baby and to remind us of the beauty of a fragile world and the need to be responsive and kind to others and to ourselves in that fragility. Let us this Advent recollect where we find God in what is tender and small and where we can care for others.