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December 25, 2017
By Tiziana Dearing, co-director of the Center for Social Innovation at Boston College
Tiziana Dearing is professor for macro practice at the Boston College School of Social Work, co-director of the Center for Social Innovation, and founding co-director of Research in Social, Economic and Environmental Equity (RISE3).
Readings for Christmas:
Isaiah 52: 7–10
Hebrews 1: 1–6
John 1: 1–18
I have gone back through @Pontifex—Pope Francis’ Twitter account—and found words of hope, challenge, and inspiration. I will combine the Pope’s tweets with the readings each week as a basis for these reflections.
Like the shepherds of Bethlehem, may we too, with eyes full of amazement and wonder, gaze upon the Child Jesus, the Son of God.— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) December 24, 2016
May the Virgin Mary help us to take the first step each day in order to build peace in love, justice and truth.— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) October 31, 2017
May a culture of encounter always be promoted that is able to bring down the walls which still divide the world.— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) November 9, 2017
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’” Matthew 1: 22–23
I originally set out to write this reflection about Mary. She was a woman whose everyday faith nevertheless demonstrated immense courage, who carried the weight of the world, of God’s commitment to his people, in her womb. As such, she became at once a testament to humility and the mother of our faith, one who took the ultimate step to help build “peace, love, justice and truth” on earth. I cannot move forward without acknowledging her and expressing my gratitude to and for her.
Having said that, this week I could not escape the combination of the gospel reading, Pope Francis’ tweet about the “culture of encounter,” and his wish for us that we, too, can “gaze upon the Child Jesus.” To gaze upon the Child Jesus is to encounter God together. Encounter leads to “metanoia,” or a change of heart. We need that so desperately now.
When we attend some adorable version of the Christmas pageant each year, the children play out a story of travelers—migrants, immigrants, and locals—who come together to witness the birth of Christ. In that stable, the travelers are equals—witnesses to a miracle the magnitude of which they almost surely don’t grasp. There are no walls between them—physically or metaphysically—and that is by design.
I have not in my life, however, seen our species as walled off from each other, as separated, as we are today. Here in the US, we increasingly spend all of our time with people who look, think, even spend like we do. Across the globe, we are wracked with spasms of fear about the other, giving in to our more base desires to feel safe, comfortable, unchallenged. We’re all guilty of it.
At Christmas, such separation is especially tragic. We are meant together to “with eyes full of amazement and wonder, gaze upon the Child Jesus” anew, specifically because encounter “is able to bring down the walls that still separate the world.” We are called to tear down our walls and embrace discomfort. Nothing about the stable and manger could have been comfortable. Nothing. Especially for Mary. Yet partly because of it and her, we rejoice.
Encounter of the other leads to a change of heart about the other. What if we fully embraced Christmas this year by committing to find the other? What if we held hands as families and challenged ourselves to find someone not like us and break bread, volunteer, or share stories together? What’s the worst that could happen? Surely, nothing worse than the spiritual pain of our current divisions.
What’s the best that could happen? Peace, love, justice, and truth.
From the bottom of my heart, Merry Christmas.
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