If one were to go by the commercial advertisements, Christmas is only for those who can afford it or whose lives are ‘together’ and filled with success and happiness. It’s for those who can afford to buy good food & drinks, decorate their homes fancifully, buy expensive gifts for one another and throw extravagant parties. Those who are poor, suffering in different ways or facing various kinds of want or sadness in their lives are excluded and shut out by the busyness and noise of this kind of celebration of Christmas. But a true celebration of Christmas embraces the suffering of our world. It calls us to embrace those on the margins in our world and bring God’s compassion into people’s lives. Because that is what Jesus did!
In becoming man, Jesus fully embraced our humanity with all its limitations. He was born into poverty to a young couple who offered only two turtledoves when they consecrated him at the Temple (Luke 2:24). His family fled to Egypt to escape Herod’s threats and lived as refugees until they could safely return to Nazareth. In ministry, Jesus experienced both admiration and rejection. And he knew the blessing of close relationships, as well as the grief of losing his father and the disappointment when his friends abandoned him.
Following the birth of Jesus, we are confronted by the fear, jealousy and rage of King Herod, who murdered many infants under two in the region of Bethlehem, in an attempt to get rid of Jesus, whom he feared might usurp his power. We hear of the inconsolable weeping of their mums in the biblical account (Matthew 2:18). Referring to this event, Pope Francis wrote that “Christmas is also accompanied, whether we like it or not, by tears” (Letter to Bishops, December 28, 2016). It reminds us that Jesus plunged himself into our complicated, even painful reality. And he did so out of love for us.
So, whether we are suffering or rejoicing today, we can be confident that Jesus knows what it’s like. Better yet, he enters into our circumstances with us. It’s easy to imagine Jesus smiling beside us when everything is going well. It’s harder to trust that he’s with us when challenges arise. We might think that he has forgotten us. But he is never far from us. He hears our cries, just as he heard the cries of the grieving mothers of Bethlehem. When we suffer, he weeps with us, just as he wept over Lazarus with Mary and Martha – and he invites us to weep with those who are suffering (John 11:35; Romans 12:15). You are never forgotten, never alone in your suffering. Jesus is with you, even as he calls you to be with those who are suffering.
To whose cries, is God drawing your attention at this time? It doesn’t necessarily mean starting a big project or running around being involved in all kinds of social issues. It can mean just reaching out to and walking with one person. It often starts with just listening to their story from your heart and seeking to empathise with their suffering with love and faith. In other words, inviting them into the celebration of Christmas! It doesn’t mean quickly finding a ‘quick fix’ or solution to their problems, but often just being with them in it. Often, it’s along this path, you discover if there’s something more you can do to help and communicate the love of Jesus.