Reflection by Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC
Gazing upon the manger, the novelist Hemingway wondered if what had happened at Bethlehem was birth or death. If it were birth, it should havecomp been the beginning of life growing into full glory. However what really took place in the manger was the complete emptying of divine glory, signalling in fact, the beginning of the end of life. The Son of God had shed all His divinity to take on the human form. The Almighty had chosen to become a most helpless baby. The eternal God has chosen to be confined by the vicissitudes of time. The Creator has opted to become the created. This decision of God‘s, St John calls, love. “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will have eternal life” (Jn 3:16).
“This life was the light of the human race” (Jn 1:4)
Behind this divine descent into the earth, there was a purpose that everything on this earth may have the fragrance of God. No wonder had Jesus asked us to pray and the only prayer He had taught us was for everything on this earth to reflect the heavenly reality: “Let it be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
The Divine light that shone on the earth was eclipsed by the rebellion of man against God. Darkness spread as a result. There was darkness in the heart of man who lost even his self-esteem. Man was going into hiding, lost in shame and a sense of inadequacy to present himself before God. There was darkness overwhelming man’s relationship with his companion and he started fault-finding and distancing himself from her. Material nature was in revolt against man becoming oppressive, denying him even the fruit it would yield as a matter of course, exacting from him sweated toil to feed himself. The earth was giving forth thorns and thistles hurting his existence. Humankind was languishing oppressed by this darkness.
Jesus started His public ministry inviting everyone to the kingdom of God, promising that God would wield authority over everything affecting humankind. All that man was called to do was repent which meant turning over to God, surrendering his life. When a paralytic was brought to Jesus (Mk 2), the Lord asserted for everyone to hear “that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (Mk 2:10). He publicly absolved the sins of this man and gave him healing, asking him to get up and walk. That’s what Jesus did with all cases of oppression and different illnesses when those affected turned to Him. When the elements of nature rebelled and rose as a storm in the sea, He brought calm with a word (Mt 8:26). The ultimate act of Jesus to redeem human relationships restoring love, was the washing of the feet of the disciples during the Last Supper (Jn 13), thereby washing away all stains of hatred and pride, dissension and discord accumulated over the centuries in the human heart. He gave the command of love initiating a new warmth in the human family saying, this would be the seal of their connection with God. “I give you a new commandment: As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. It is by your love that all will know that you are my disciples” (Jn 13:34,35).
“The kingdom of God is in your midst” (Lk 17:21)
Wherever Jesus went and in whatever He saw, He perceived the reflection of the Father’s love. He looked up to see the birds in flight freely over the horizon and He was reminded of the supreme love of the Father for every man and woman. It is the Father who feeds them, He pointed out, reasoning that, if the Father was so concerned about these birds how much more He should be about us. In the lilies of the field He saw the fruit of the Father’s caring gaze. So meticulously were these flowers arrayed, that even the grandeur of King Solomon’s attire could never match the splendour of these. It is the Father’s caring providence that fashions them so beautifully. How much more He would be mindful and caring towards His children, Jesus reasoned (Mt 6:26-30). He was instructing men and women of all times in the way to life, freed of all stresses and bondage by trusting in God’s loving providence. This in no way meant that one could afford to be lazy or irresponsible. In fact, in the parable of the talents, He illustrates with emphasis that laziness is wickedness and that everyone is compelled to hard work and be responsible in the degree of the capabilities given to him (Mt 25:14-30). Yet one cannot let the beauty of life be lost in the scorching heat of the earthly rat race. Rather, the focus of life should lead us to be enthralled by the captivating love of our God.
When a woman had invited Jesus home for a meal, He had observed her kneading flour in the kitchen after adding a pinch of leaven to the mass of flour. His perception was that even as the leaven transformed the flour so would His Father’s love permeate the hearts of all men and women slowly but surely (Mt 13:33). This was the certitude in His heart that the transformational love of the Father would prevail and usher in the whole mankind and the world into the light of the kingdom of His heaven. Sharing this assurance to the disciples, He bid them to continue to proclaim the love of the Father and become agents of God’s Kingdom. As the leaven works in the dough, so should the love of God in our hearts do, becoming a power that would transform our generation.
As Jesus stepped out and was passing by a farm in the Judean countryside, He saw a farmer sowing seeds in the routine of his field work. He observed that while some seeds fell on the ploughed field and ground made fertile, some seeds went to waste, falling on the wayside amidst thorns and thistles and on rocky ground (Mt 13). It struck Him to point out the parallel that the Word fails to touch and transform some because the disposition of their hearts was inappropriate. However, there was His prompt reassurance that God’s word would surely find receptive hearts.
“The light shines in the darkness and darkness has not overcome it” (Jn 1:5)
Even in life’s certain seemingly negative realities, Jesus could discern God’s passionate love which would not forsake humans in their folly but draw out of these dark experiences the grace of the Father’s redeeming grace and goodness. One can sense the Lord’s immense mercy stretching out to embrace the wretched sinner in the cry of the Father, “How can I give you up, or deliver you up, my people? My heart is overwhelmed, my compassion is stirred.” (Hos 11:8). Jesus speaks of a judge who so unmindful of God and of neighbour, used to be ruthlessly unjust but relenting to a hard-pressed widow’s persistent pleadings, gave her justice just to be rid of her nuisance. Narrating this parable, Jesus concludes how much more attentive the compassionate, all-loving Father would be to those calling out to Him in their distress (Lk 18:1-8).
There was nothing in this world that could remain impervious to the love of the Father. Jesus notices a parent indifferent to the son. He would then go on to describe that however wicked a father might be, he would never give the son a serpent when the boy would ask for a fish, or a stone when the child hungers for bread. From such a situation Jesus raises our attention to the generous love of the Heavenly Father who waits to give His very Spirit to His children (Lk 11:9-13).
The sole intent of Jesus was to mould the vision of His disciples in such a way that all that they saw when they looked around would raise their hearts to rest on God’s love. He was impressing upon the disciples the one truth that no human situation, however hopeless it might seem, should drive them to despair; rather their hearts must be able to perceive God’s hand moulding it to usher in the Kingdom of heaven.
“See what love the Father has… that we may be called children of God” (1 Jn 3:1)
The youth at the time of Jesus, as at any other age, would have been up to rebellion, insistent on their way in life and often rushing into disaster. Jesus gave them a new hope in the love of the Father. However devastated by their sinful ways, the Father, Jesus assures, would be waiting to receive them and restore to them all that they had lost, as His grace alone could do. That’s the message in the most-loved parable that Jesus had narrated of the Prodigal Son (Lk 15). Even in man’s rebellion of sin, God’s love would not abandon man. His heart is in search of those lost, just as the Good Shepherd goes after the stray sheep to bring it home to the celebration of heaven. His love does not take offence and cannot remain indifferent to the plight of the rebellious. His heart cannot rest even if a single person were to be lost in sin and grief.
Just as no aspect of human existence would remain excluded and set apart from the Father’s all-embracing love, so would every strain of human sickness and suffering be embraced by His mission on earth. During His pursuit to bring about the Kingdom of God on this earth, the Lord would prophesy twice that when He is lifted up on the cross, He would draw all men and women to His kingdom (Jn 3:14,15; 12:32). The misery of suffering resultant from sin in every moment of human history enters Him and is told on Him. He took it all upon Himself. When He was betrayed by Judas, all the agony of human deception coursed through His heart. The grief of every human person devastated by a trusted friend’s betrayal or a spouse’s unfaithfulness would break the heart of Jesus at that very moment. When He was condemned most unjustly by Pilate what Jesus suffered in His heart was the desolate pain of all men and women in history who were unfairly treated and punished. When He offered Himself to be flogged at the pillar, what bruised His body was the sum total of pain borne by the sick and the suffering. When He carried the cross on His shoulders, what weighed His body down was the burden that was and would be carried by every human person traversing this valley of tears. The moment of the passion and the death of Jesus contained in itself all the agony and isolation of death that every human must face. The Lord chose to be one with every human person of every generation by identifying Himself with every strain of suffering they had to endure. Salvation flowed out from that moment of Calvary over the length and breadth of the history of humankind. That was the moment of the realization of the prayer that Jesus led us to say: Father, Thy Kingdom come!
Before Jesus would ascend to His Father, the disciples seek to know from Him the hour when the Kingdom of God would be established on earth. Jesus, however, would respond that what was achieved by Him was to be completed by their witnessing, “You shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth” (Ac 1:8). He would clarify that this ministry of spreading the Kingdom of heaven all over the world was to be carried out in the power of the Holy Spirit. The disciples took up the task that is the task to be continued by everyone who believes in Jesus.
Heaven came down on earth at the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. Heaven was experienced by everyone during His ministry on earth. The mission He had accepted from His Father was consummated on the cross. The task remains for all of us to carry forth the graces received from Bethlehem to Calvary and tospread the Kingdom everywhere. Until every blind person sees and every paralytic gets up and walks, until every brokenhearted person is comforted and everyone enslaved in sinful bondage is liberated, until darkness is dispelled from the hearts and lives of all, the mission begun in Bethlehem should be pursued by those who have received the Good News of great joy that was declared on the night of Christmas. The sky that brightened up at the birth of Jesus should remain glowing, declaring to all humankind that the peace of the reign of God has come to prevail on earth.
O God of Heaven we welcome you to this earth and to our hearts and homes. You love us so much you could never abandon us in the darkness of our foolish ways and helpless pain. You come to save us. Because of your love and compassion for us, heaven has come down and glory fills the earth. Give us the grace that even when everything seems to go wrong we may be firm in the confidence of faith that you are there with us and you will turn everything for our good. As we bow before you to adore your loving kindness to us, we pray open our eyes that we may see the wonder of your love that fills the earth. Open our hearts to receive everyone with love and honour as you did. We pray that in our hearts, our lives and this earth, your perfect will shall be accomplished as it is in heaven. Come, Lord Jesus! Come!