Friday, December 22, 2006

22 December
The Contours of Christmas Joy

Readings: 1 Samuel 1:24-28; 1 Samuel 2:1, 4-5, 6-7, 8abcd; Luke 1:46-56

In the songs of Mary and Hannah (responsorial psalm) we are given yet another glimpse of the joy that Christmas brings. We are given the opportunity to reflect once again on the contours of this our birthright as Christians. How does it come about? And what does it look like?

The dynamics of how this joy comes to be experienced could not be simpler. As Hannah tells Samuel: This is the child I prayed for, and the Lord granted me what I asked him… A deep longing is experienced. It is made known to God. And God answers the prayer. Isn’t this why the joy of Mary and Hannah have a similar object?

Of course, both of them are happy for similar reasons, albeit at different levels of significance. One who had long suffered the humiliations of her barrenness has finally conceived and borne a child. The other, although still very young, represents the humiliations and yearnings of a long-barren people, among whom we may include ourselves. And she too has conceived. Indeed she bears Him who is Saviour of all the world.

But their joy is not so much in their own achievement as it is in the God who has made it all possible: My heart exults in the Lord my saviour. Far from being focused only on their own individual triumphs, the horizons of their hearts, and hence of their prayer, could not be broader. They are moved to celebrate all that God does and continues to do in the world. He has pulled down princes… and exalted the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things, the rich sent empty away…

And because they see so clearly how much they owe to the mercy and compassion of God, because their joy is so God-centred it has yet another significant aspect. There is no clinging to what they have received. Rather is there a radical openness to sharing what has been given to them with God and with others. As Hannah says of her precious first-born: Now I make him over to the Lord for the whole of his life. And does not Mary do the same? The little we know of her relationship with her beloved Son mirrors her actions at the Visitation. Just as she willingly shared the One she bore in her womb with Elizabeth and with the Baptist, so does she continue to share Him with the world, even unto Cross and Tomb and Sky.

As we continue to await Christ’s coming, what are the contours of our joy? What is its source and goal?

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