There is a community in New England that has a cross on a hill overlooking the city. At night, the cross is lit and can be seen from most of the city, which is built on six additional hills. A little 5-year-old girl knelt by her window one night. She was facing the cross and told her mommy she was praying to God.
I understand why Jesus loved little children. He let them come to him when others were pushing them aside and told all of us to become like little children if we wish to enter into his life. Of the tens of thousands of people who see that cross every night, how many turn their hearts to God in prayer?
“A little child will lead them,” the prophet Isaiah announced this 800 years before the birth of Christ. It is still true today. For the most part it was ignored when Isaiah prophesized it, and it is generally dismissed as irrelevant today. There is wisdom in a child praying at her window, a wisdom beyond her ability to comprehend at this stage in her life. The Spirit of God is praying within her and she is allowing that to happen.
Two thousand years ago, this same Spirit prayed within a young teenage girl in Nazareth. Her name was Mary. The Spirit sent the Archangel Gabriel to speak with Mary. Mary allowed the Spirit a space in her heart, listened to the request from God and agreed to cooperate with God’s plan. She agreed to become the Mother of Jesus, the Son of God. Artists throughout the ages have painted this moment as they imagined it. No one knows what the reality looked like, but surely it was not what most have painted. There were no medieval robes in luxurious colors, no lilies or kneelers for Mary. Mary was a young Middle Eastern woman who most likely lived in a primitive home built into the side of a cave. She didn’t go around in blue and white robes in the desert land where she lived. No halo floated over her head. No LED light show accompanied her encounter. A young woman prayed, perhaps at a window in the wall of her home; and God was present to her. The difference between Mary and us is that she was aware of God’s presence to such a degree that she opened herself to the extraordinary question of the angel.
Mary was asked to bear the Son of God within her womb, to carry him for nine months as any other child and to give birth to a son. An improbable reality followed an impossible question. Only Mary gave birth to Jesus in the flesh. Yet every Christian is asked by God the same question as Mary. “Will you allow my Spirit to fill you with the Son of God? Will you bear my Son to your part of the world? Will you let others know the life of Christ by the way you live? Will you be the healing hands of Jesus today? Will you let Jesus feed my people through you?” Few really believe this, but it is the gift of every Christian alive to bear Christ to others. It is what the Incarnation means.
The Catholic Church in America, through various organizations, has spent a great deal of effort and money in the courts so that there can be crèches displayed on public property at Christmas time. How much more effort is needed for Catholics to display Jesus Christ in their own lives? And how much more effective and necessary than manger scenes?
Few people can ignore a plea for gifts for poor children at Christmas. Thank God for this spirit of the season. This season could be the time for us to reflect on what gifts our children need. We want our children to have toys like dolls and trains and building blocks. We also want them to have the gifts of kindness and charity. And like our little girl praying at the window facing the cross on the hill, we want them to have the gift of prayer.
When we look at the crèches in our town greens, in our churches and in our living rooms, we need to see beyond the stone or china statues to the reality of the Incarnation they represent. Jesus was born in Bethlehem of a young woman from Nazareth. Forever and ever we are grateful beyond words for God’s coming among us was 2,000 years ago and we are grateful beyond words that Jesus Christ is still among us today. We know this in the lives of those who continue to bear Christ to all, especially the poor and most desperate. Merry Christmas.
Sister Patricia McCarthy currently teaches Math at a Catholic School. For many years she taught troubled children and victims of abuse.