As they began married life together Mary and Joseph faced problems on every side. Mary was pregnant, yet she had to travel to Bethlehem for a state sponsored census. Morever, this census was against the Jewish people – it was ordered by the Romans as a way of controlling them. Joseph and Mary had to compromise their hopes and aspirations for the common good, for to go against the Romans would ensure punishment of the Jewish people and perhaps their own imprisonment. Under these harsh conditions Jesus was born in Bethlehem – in fulfillment of the prophecies.
From the beginning Jesus lived in the midst of contradictions and troubles. Joseph did not know what to think about Mary at first. The angel of the Lord told him in a dream to take Mary as his wife, and then later advised him to take Mary and Child to Egypt. Mary too had to reflect on all that was happening. St. Luke says that “she pondered all these things in her heart.” She and Joseph learned to live with the difficulties of life by resorting to prayer and listening to God.
We too learn to pray and listen to God. We learn how to live by seeing the examples of those who live well, not the billionares of the world, or the powerful, but the happy, the generous, the kind, the loving, the saintly both among youth and adults. They teach us the art of living, especially how to live in difficult times.
In Lebanon we learn from our Patriarch how to live with an invisible, cowardly and yet potent enemy, one that hates truth, and seeks to destroy others. We learn how to cultivate a proper anger towards criminals and those who kill, but we do so without hatred. In the Middle East, where the rule has been “eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth”, and where revenge is the reigning passion, Christians learn how to live “in between” by being faithful to Jesus’ way of militant, non-violent love and forgiveness.
In America, we too learn how to live with all the contradictions of our society; the gap between the rich and the poor, the fight between those who care about life, and those who disregard and willingly disrespect life. We learn to live by values and principles founded on truth, yet our society often doesn’t want anybody telling them what is right or wrong…everything goes, everything is relative. We Christians live “in between”, and often there is no room for Christ anywhere. You and I are people “in between,” whether in our families, our society, or our world. Like Mary and Joseph we have to make hard choices to raise our children, to make a living, to stand for what is right and true. Today is Christmas, God became man and dwells among us – first in Bethlehem and now at the altar of our Churches. Jesus lived and died between the heaven of the Kingdom he preached, and the Hell of those who at every turn tried to destroy him, from Herod, and his collaborators, to Pilate, the High Priest, and the powers of the world who at that time were stacked against Him…and still are today.
Jesus Christ is crucified today, hung between the Hell we make for ourselves and for one another, and the Heaven He preached having heard and seen from His Father. Yet life is not a perpetual Good Friday, but nor is it yet a perpetual Easter. Rather, we live in Holy Saturday, a day of waiting and praying, work and sacrifice for the good. Like Mary and Joseph we live “between” the now and the not yet of God’s promises.
Are we brave enough to follow Him to the Cross, and choose to be the children of Joseph and Mary rather than to throw in our lot with His opponents and crucifiers, or with those who believe that He does not deserve a place in society? At times we kill God’s initiative not by our opposition, but by our apathy. It wasn’t the persecution of the Romans, nor the opposition of non Christians that has slowly been eradicating Christianity from Europe, and perhaps also American. It was baptized Christians who did not care much for their God given faith, and this apathy has contributed to a society that insists to live with no room for Christ, no room for Christian faith.
Today Christ is born in Bethlehem, but unless the gift of Christmas is born again in us, it will be wasted on those who should benefit from it the most. Let us then live “in between” as did Jesus from his birth to his death and resurrection. Let us embrace every difficulty and pain without running and hiding, and live a proud and faithful Holy Saturday: waiting, hoping, working and making the proper sacrifices so that God’s will may be done in us. Good Fridays we will always have, Easter Sunday will forever be a sure promise and a trustworthy hope. Today, however, on this Christmas Day, we wait and work for the dawn of a new day – a day of peace on earth and good will to all, where our hearts become a new Bethlehem. This is a new Holy Saturday of promise and of home. “May the God of peace guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Merry Christmas to all.
+Gregory John Mansour
(Reprinted with permission.)