Today’s readings remind me of a how the joy of Christmas is present, even in difficult circumstances.
A few years ago, as my family celebrated our Christmas Eve dinner, my mother received notice that my aunt had attempted to cross the United States border, hoping to be reunited with her young children; her attempt was unsuccessful and she had been detained. Even though the message was clear, it seemed my mother was in denial. She asked me to explain the text message to her. I slowly explained the situation to my mom as her eyes filled with tears. That Christmas was full of uncertainty and pain for my mother, but it was also a day of prayer for us – a day of gratitude for the birth of Jesus Christ. God has provided for my family all these years. His constancy in our lives is overwhelming. That Christmas we had to trust and let the news of the birth of our Savior bring us out of a dark place, to experience a renewed sense of hope.
In our reading from the book of Isaiah, we begin with the imagery of the Israelites walking in darkness and then seeing a great light. This light brings about a new kind of joy: one that arrives through the birth of a son. But this isn’t just any child being born, it’s the Son of God. We hear that this son will have a vastly different dominion from the ones they have experienced at the hands of uncertainty and turmoil; his dominion will be “forever peaceful”. This same light – this same peace-bearing child – is the one born into our lives. We must remember, however, that receiving this child is a decision. If we do not accept and embrace the presence of Jesus in our daily lives, of what use is his peaceful dominion? If we do not have peace in our families, our homes, our marriages, our communities, of what use is God’s offering to us?
That same challenge is present alongside the joy that is found in our Psalm: “They shall exalt before the Lord, for he comes; for he comes to rule the earth. He shall rule the world with justice and the peoples with his constancy.” Christ is born to bring constancy, meaning faithfulness, commitment, dedication. The challenge here lies in having the eyes to see it. We despair often, and our own selfishness, pride, and worries blind us to God’s presence. Constancy is necessary for our souls, but do we believe God has been constantly with us? Do we accept His faithfulness? His faithfulness is not the problem, our recognition of it and our lack of reciprocity is. God is here – he has always been here. Today’s Psalm calls each one of us to open our eyes. Christmas gives us a new opportunity to trust in his loyalty to us. Mary is the epitome of this mutual commitment. God found favor in Mary, a young woman, and chose her to be the bearer of Jesus’ humanity. Mary rejoiced. Mary trusted. She was selected to not just carry the Son of God in her womb, but to experience the full birth experience in the most meager of circumstances. Not in a private maternity suite, followed by a recovery suite with state-of-the-arm labor and delivery equipment. Not a hospital lockdown to give the Mary and Joseph some privacy. The Son of God was born in a manger surrounded by animals and was only wrapped in swaddling clothes. Yet Mary continued to trust, and even rejoice.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus said to his disciples, “when a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come, but when her child is born, her anguish turns into joy because she has brought a human being into the world.” Mary is filled with a deep sense of joy. The reason for the joy is the birth of Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, and so for us too, the reason we can experience joy is because of the birth of God’s Son. For Mary and Joseph, no lavish accommodations were needed to fully appreciate the joy of hope that came with the birth of Jesus Christ. Pope Francis talks about Christian joy as joy that cannot be bought, as it is a gift from God. It is a joy that is purified, in the same purified way that marked the birth of Jesus.
The God of the universe was really born; he walked among us and opened the doors to eternal life. Even more wonderful, he walks with us today - truly, concretely, and practically.
What could keep us from celebrating today?
As you celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, what are you clinging onto? Is it your worries? Your plans for your future? Your fears? Or are you clinging onto the only one darkness could not overcome? Is your heart ready to welcome the son of God made flesh for us? Do you see the birth of Jesus Christ as a renewed opportunity to trust in God’s constancy like Mary did?
Such news fills us with hope and joy. Our savior is here – we no longer walk in darkness.
Yadira Vieyra Alvarez
Yadira Vieyra Alvarez is Research Specialist at the School of Social Service Administration at The University of Chicago, Yadira works on evaluating the effectiveness of doula home visiting services being provided to adolescent mothers. Yadira is also collaborating with the University of Chicago at Illinois and Immaculate Conception Parish in Brighton Park through “Fortaleciendo mi familia” – a series of sessions aimed at bringing low-intensity cognitive behavioral therapy and psychosocial support to Mexican immigrant families experiencing distress, anxiety, and depression due to exposure to community violence, financial challenges, and migration-related worries. She attended Cristo Rey Jesuit High School and later moved to Washington D.C. where she completed her bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Theology from Georgetown University. She received her Masters of Science from Erikson Institute in Chicago, a premier graduate school in early child development. As part of her commitment to urban Catholic Education, Yadira has also served in a variety of ministerial and catechetical roles including the Leadership Advisory Council at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School. Most recently, she was appointed as an auditor at the Synod of Bishops in Rome to treat the topic: Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment and represented the immigrant community in the United States. To learn more about her experience at the synod, you can read America Magazine.