Love, joy, and peace are words often associated with the infant in the manger in Bethlehem. But truth be told – the best way to describe him: subversive. His birth undercuts all worldly power and assumptions. Even at the moment of birth, there was “no room in the Inn,” and as C.S. Lewis often quipped, “God had to sneak clandestinely behind enemy lines.” This world would not receive this newborn King and has found ways to reject him ever since. The swaddled child was an immediate threat to the political order and an object of panic to the religious community. Herod wanted him dead; the Temple officials wouldn’t tolerate this version of a Messiah. From this point onward, Jesus turned the worldly powers on their heads, he subverted the old religions, and those who dared to follow him were hunted down as revolutionaries, disloyal citizens who threatened the status quo.
If you think that the birth of Christ no longer holds any subversive quality, just look around and see the many who are hostile to His Gospel. The proclamation of Jesus Christ can be just too much for so many. Just look around at all the Christmas cranks who cringe at the site of a manager or shriek when hearing the words: Merry Christmas.
This sweet child in the manger would, after all, grow and declare, “You are either for me or against me” and “he who does not gather with me, scatters.” His presence alone caused division. It has been that way ever since. He left His Church as His visible remaining presence among us, which puts humanity in the position to be either moving towards the Church or away from it. So if you are a Catholic who no longer is part of the Church, then you inevitably find yourself fighting to find ways to move away from the Church.
It’s worth taking a look at what and why we fight to stay away from the Church. For some the reasons are rather superficial: “I don’t like those people,” “they’re hypocrites,” “the Pastor is a scold,” “all they do is ask for money,” “I don’t get anything out of it,” or “I don’t need to go to Church to pray.” For others the resistance goes a little deeper: “too many rules to follow,” “after all, who is the Church to tell me how to live my life.” “to be a good person it doesn’t matter what you believe,” “being a good person is all that matters,” “it’s what’s in my heart that matters,” “I don’t hurt anyone.” Some of us will fight against the Church because she refuses to go along with a certain lifestyle or will not co-sign on immoral behavior, and yet others of us are intellectually constipated and refuse to see the harmony between faith and reason. Then there is the ultimate sleight of hand: “I’m spiritual, not religious.” Yet even these excuses reveal a heart and mind that is full of theological preconditions. The theological is as inescapable as the biological part of our nature. Whatever the rationalization for resistance to Christ and his Church, everyone who comes in contact with it needs to ask the fundamental question: Who is this Jesus?
Truth is that we all experience this resistance at different points in life. The challenge then is for us to step out of the black hole of our egoism and consider for a moment that we might not have all the answers. What is it that the child of Bethlehem proposes to us? He comes to us to both reveal and teach us the way of love. This love is a radical self-gift that seeks only the good of the other. It is best expressed in a life lived for the sake of the other. It is not a subjective love that only loves so that the other will love back. It is a participation in the self-giving Love of God. And by coming to know and love Christ, we find the way to authentically “love one another” and not just some gushy sweet sentiment we label as goodness.
This New Year offers us a new opportunity to get honest with ourselves and take a long loving look at our resistance, rebelliousness, or indifference to the Gospel message. It is simply too big and too significant to ignore.
If you have been avoiding Church or just wandered away or have real issues with the Church, her teaching, or her practice, I invite you to “Come Home” to where you belong. And maybe spend some time with us, take off the gloves and cease fighting and find the real reason for your resistance. The process is simple but not easy, but it is the way to peace.
Since that first Christmas morn, history has not softened the impact of the Child in the manger. He remains a flashpoint for all time. In our own historical moment the demarcation of those who are for and those who are against Christ is becoming crystal clear. Which side are you on? Are you all in?
So 2018, all 365 days, 52 weeks, 12 months and 525,600 minutes will be another opportunity to allow the Christ Child to show you where you really stand.
Love, Fr. John B.