We all yearn for something more in our lives. Authentic prayer actually begins not with competence but with this inner ache and restlessness that we all experience at one time or another.
What is this ache? It sometimes surfaces when one falls silent and the “demons” of one’s inner life come to the fore and wreak havoc. Old obsessions and wounds, perhaps even guilt and shame at past failures, certainly confusion, all rush in and a struggle often eventuates. On such occasions, praying the mantra of the Jesus Prayer – Lord Jesus Christ, Son of David, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me a sinner! – often helps me to quieten things down.
What does not help is to “run away” and refuse to risk silent prayer, alone in the “cave” of the heart. These inner struggles, even wounds, are like riddles, trying to draw out of us our own inner silence.
The Incarnation of the Lord of the Universe into our human condition shows, ultimately, how the wounds we loathe can become vehicles of healing and joy. Christmas is the season of this dwelling of the Word made flesh in our often complicated and sinful lives.
In his essay On Fairy-stories, J.R.R. Tolkien says that the Gospel both begins and ends with joy – the joy of Christ’s birth and the joy of the Resurrection – and it embraces all that is human between those two events. The Incarnation contains the whole Gospel, from the wood of the manger to the wood of the Cross; the condescension of Jesus’ birth as a vulnerable child and the power of the Resurrection and the hope of his return in glory.
Christmas celebrates God’s free choice to share the lot of humanity, to enter into the experience of human life with all its vulnerability, its risks, its poverty, its mortality. We are not alone. The one who is Joy shares and makes possible the joy of human life. Christian joy is not dependent on outer circumstances of prosperity or even good health and long life, but is an inner reality that shines forth. Christ is in our midst and we are not alone.
Our Church then finds its truest home at the manger, a scene fraught with human messiness and hardly engaging at first glance. Yet this is the dawn of the Church: transcendence indwelling the most ordinary of human events; a birth; a love-struck God going to great ends to get in on life with us in the most intimate way possible; a family driven to a shabby stable by the demand of emerging life; a newborn’s wail; mystery in the night sky; wise people looking beyond their wealth, power, and knowledge for something more.
This is our joy. There is indeed “something more” and it is found in a baby; in utter vulnerability.
May we rediscover this Christ Child and the new life he alone can give in this holy season.
Br Mark O’Connor FMS is the Vicar for Communications in the Diocese of Parramatta.