This crib speaks volumes. It is about a simple young couple who have seen already a lot in their lives. They are not the only ones who live a life of precariousness where people are displaced by the whim of the mighty; people who had to leave the little they had so as to be counted, becoming yes another statistic in a census. Joseph and Mary strangers with no connections, at times their only hope is the pity card some locals played, providing them with just enough for the very basics. But this is just the beginning. What is going through their heads is yet another thing. In their eyes the sudden pregnancy and the hurried move of the woman into the house of her husband is still being worked out. They would like to think otherwise. They make an effort to fly on the path of faith and reinterpret the events from a different perspective. Sometimes they manage with the help of each other but other times the hard facts of life are too much in their faces to ignore.
Yet this crib overflows with tenderness that is real, simple, innocent and heartwarming. This stance captures an instant in the Christmas story that reflects what it is all about. In Genesis, the inspired author speaks about exhaustion as a consequence of man’s disobedience. “By the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread” Gen 3:19a. The child in the embrace of his parents is surrounded by this exhaustion, but is not crushed, as if to remind us that it is the main reason why he is there. When he grows up, he will take it all on himself and transform it in such a way that no human can do. But for the time being we have to wait another season. Meanwhile mother and father rest their heads on each other because they do have each other, because they have trusted each other, because they complement each other so as to make one story. It is a moment of lull where the only guardians are a couple of sheep, a source of warmth and nourishment.
But this crib tells us that exhaustion is not the main actor in this theater of life. It is what underlies this stance that makes the whole difference and gives meaning to the crib of our daily lives.
This crib strikes a chord with our lives. We share with Mary and Joseph that tired posture which comes to visit us every so often in our lives. The reasons are myriad. Physical exhaustion from work, ministry or family. Mental fatigue due to a fragmented life with so many loose ends to keep together or irresolvable issues ensuing from the many compromises we make. Emotional tiredness from broken relationships with no apparent hope for reconciliation, or grief of lost ones who were too important to let go. Then there is spiritual weariness where we have to endure a flatness with no apparent end in which what worked before seems so superficial and out of synch with what we experience now.
But this crib tells us that exhaustion is not the main actor in this theater of life. It is what underlies this stance that makes the whole difference and gives meaning to the crib of our daily lives. Tiredness is just a consequence of our frailty and is already won, only if our heads have another person’s shoulder to lay over and our hands have a Savior to hold. Communion and prayer are the altar on which all our human endeavors need to be offered so as to become redemptive, otherwise we have to turn our scripture pages backwards to the book of Qoheleth and shout desperately “I have seen all things that are done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a chase after wind.” Qo 1:14
As people of faith and missionaries in our families, and communities at home and in foreign lands, may our struggles not be a vain effort that births only pain around us but a fruitful presence that transforms death into life.
Wishing you a blessed Christmas.
Fr. Mark Grima mssp