A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Perfectly Less Than Ideal

by Maria Kennedy

by Maria Kennedy

Sometimes mothers give birth in less than ideal conditions, such as in a car on the side of the road, unable to reach the hospital in time. I don’t think Mary planned on giving birth in a stable at Bethlehem either. But these things happen.

Still, what was God thinking? He organised visitors, a star in the sky but He couldn’t organise a clean and welcoming room in the inn, you know, one of those last minute cancellations that became available just when Mary and Joseph turned up. But as we say, it all turned out well in the end. Mary and Jesus were strong enough to survive the conditions and now we look with fondness at the crib scene with the cattle lowing and the three kings kneeling before the baby Jesus. Giving birth in a stable is less than ideal for the holy family yet simultaneously perfectly just right.

Perhaps our Christmas’s are the same. We don’t have family near. Departed loved ones are no longer with us. Money is short. Our health is precarious. We are dealing with a hurtful situation. There could be a myriad number of things going on in our lives that threaten to rob us of peace and joy at Christmas.

It makes me look back to that first Christmas. Regarding the Innkeeper and his wife, did they hesitate to offer the stable as a place to give birth? And what did Mary and Joseph think about the offer? Was it on the tip of their tongues to say, “no thanks, we’ll keep looking for something better.” There seem to be two acts of humility going on here—the first is offering something that seems less than ideal and the second is accepting the gift when something better is hoped for.

Jesus Heals the Cripple, Pieter Aiertsen  1575

Jesus Heals the Cripple, Pieter Aiertsen 1575

So as Christmas approaches we can reflect on these humble acts. When it comes to charity, we can give from humility. We may feel we don’t have much to give, or it feels like we are giving a drop in an ocean of need, but we can still offer the little we have just like the innkeeper and his wife. That little gift you place under the store Christmas tree might mean the world to the stranger who receives it. Something deeper, the grace of God, transforms our gift to be just right for where it ends up. Similarly you may not be looking forward to Christmas because you are anticipating an unhappy time. It’s an act of humility to ask for help just like Mary and Joseph had to do and decide whether or not to accept what is offered. And in the grace of God even though what is offered seems less than ideal, in fact it may turn out to be just right.

I suppose all Christmases are less than ideal. There’s always some problem or other that takes our time and worry. Christmas is a lesson in humility where we turn the less than ideal, through the wondrous graces of God, into something as close to perfect as we can get. The innkeeper and his wife and Mary and Joseph gave and received in humility and in doing so everything turned out so well, now we can’t imagine it being any other way. We cannot separate the joy and peace of Christmas from that humble stable setting. There, the privacy of family and the walls of the inn cannot keep us away from being invited to smile upon the precious baby Jesus. In that simple manger scene the whole world is invited to approach Him.

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