Advent and Christmas always elicit quite a range of sentiments. This is due in large part to the intersection of our own individual lives with the message of Christmas. Human nature is such that we often compare our own experience with the experience and stories of others. I think to myself, "What would I do if I was Joseph?" or, "How could such a simple birth result in the slaughtering of thousands of young boys?" That last question might catch you off guard, but shortly after Christmas the Church recognizes the feast of the Holy Innocents, since according to history, Herod commanded the genocide of all boys under the age of two because of the messianic overtones he encountered in the birth of Jesus. Herod did not want to lose power or control. Our culture intentionally silences the totality of the infancy narrative because it lacks the language or tools to even understand Christmas.
Instead, Christmas is reduced to a feel-good story of hope and doing good for others, but honestly, I am not sure we even know why anymore. Returning to the complete story of the Incarnation, one could make the argument that Mary and Joseph felt brutally uncomfortable. Their sense of hope of course never wavered, but it wasn't as picturesque and harmonious as our culture portrays.
We are living in a time in which the stories of real people, people like the Holy Family and St. Nicholas are soon going to be reduced to a mere feeling of good will towards others. But life doesn't always feel good, so how can we sustain this intentional living for others even when it doesn't work according to plan? Should we adjust our expectations for moral greatness, and thereby allow our children to self-create their own version of happiness and hope? I think you could predict my simple answer, but that is only because there is a much deeper truth to the seasons of Advent of Christmas.
The Incarnation changed everything. It changed the cosmos, it changed reality, and it re-directed the very core of human existence outward to our truly ultimate end: the Father who loved us so much he permitted his son to descend into a warped, wicked, and wanting world. We didn't have the solution then, but we do now, and the solution is not simply to feel good; the solution is to live good, and goodness has a flavor like the flavor of a well-cooked ham. It is not subject to debate or our own perspective; some hams just taste bad, and you can tell which hams are really cooked correctly. Jesus Christ has no historical parallel, which again indicates that all of human history has been (evidence suggests) fundamentally altered because of him.
We expected the savior because we know things are not what they are supposed to be. The birth of Christ marks the moment when everything changed. It also suggests to us that hope is best attained when it is difficult to hope. It is not just the thought that counts; what we do in hope really matters. Joseph didn't think to himself, "I would love to save my family by going to Egypt." He did as he was told by divine wisdom.
My prayer for all of you is that Joseph and Mary can intercede and instill that hope which never succumbs to what is going on around us, but remains committed to God's plan for human greatness.
Yours Truly In Christ,