December 28, 2008


The child’s father & mother were amazed at what was said about him.

- Luke 2: 33

At Christmas, God’s love & power enter into the mainstream of human existence. In Christ, God is discovered among seemingly ordinary people. For most of us, there are no people who seem so ordinary as members of our own families. It is often said that “familiarity breeds contempt,” & that is true or, at least, it is true for those who do not search for the new in the ordinary.

This is the Gospel secret discovered by those husbands & wives & brothers & sisters & life-long friends who continue to grow together through their relationships. When we see marriages & friendships which, over a long period of time, never seem to grow stale, we recognize the beauty of it. Unfortunately, we are also struck by the rarity of it.

Adolescents fantasize about breaking away & finding a larger & more exciting world. In a deep sense we should be restless & discontented, because we are made for the kingdom of God & must remain unsatisfied with anything short of it. But the signs of the kingdom are not to be discovered in adolescent fantasizing but in grown-up commitment. Some of us are like little children at the Saturday matinee: we want to be entertained by the big extravaganza. However, enriching our human relationships is not a matter of being entertained, but of being committed.

Since God has taken up residence in the human condition, it is impossible to completely know & understand another person. The reality of being human is now inexhaustible. Each of us is a mystery to the other. We each have joyful mysteries that make no sense unless God is real. We have luminous mysteries, those ‘eureka’ moments when suddenly we see a passage of scripture in a surprisingly new light. We have sorrowful mysteries that transcend any given hurt or trauma. Finally, we have glorious mysteries that produce in us hopes & joys that cannot be taken away by circumstances or other people.

We are a mystery, not least of all to ourselves. It is, as St. Paul says, only in the coming of the kingdom that “we shall know ourselves even as we are known.” But now is the time of exploration & discovery, if only in part.

The Bible speaks of wives ‘reverencing’ their husbands & of husbands ‘reverencing’ their wives. So must we all approach one another in an attitude of reverence. We must learn to cherish one another as the Divinely-created mysteries that we are. If a social scientist were to claim to know what was going on after observing our religious behavior, we would tell him that his conclusions are woefully inadequate, that he had missed the point. The whole point, for those who have eyes to see, is that in these ordinary activities, God is keeping His promise to be present with His people.

Christmas tells us that God has stooped low to make Himself present to all of human life. Until we discover Him in a family member or a friend, we have not really begun to discover the people we think we know best. Amen!