I was thinking of the response of the shepherds, ‘let us go to Bethlehem and see’ (Luke 2:15) and it struck me that no sooner was Jesus born than people started to react to him.
The Jews had reacted long ago, drawn by the promise they dimly sensed, ‘let us come into his presence’ (Ps. 95). And the pagans too felt the Jews had something to offer: ‘The citizens of many cities will say, we must certainly go to entreat Yahweh’s favour … and they will take a Jew by the sleeve and say we want to go with you’ (Zech. 8:20-3).
So there was a movement towards the divine in ancient times even if it was obscurely understood. Later the response was to have a sharper edge. Jesus said, ‘let us go to our friend Lazarus’ and Thomas added, maybe with a touch of desperation, ‘Let us also go and die with him’ (John 11:11-16). And then we arrive at Jesus’ blunt invitation to accompany him to Gethsemane, ‘Come now, let us go!’(John 14:31).
So the human heart is aching. Yet its aching is often unfocused. I want but I am not quite sure what I want. ‘Everyone was trying to touch him’ (Luke 6:19) but why? And this continues today. There are rich pickings on You Tube where you can listen, for example, to Richard Rohr or Rupert Spira – each in his own way clearing the ground so that we can focus our desire.
Many who embark on this search do not sense that they are helped by the Church. This is a pity because it is hard to search alone and the churches, for all their shortcomings, provide community, interpretation of the word and visible signs with life-giving effects.
But we have a problem of connecting. The different Christian traditions want to help people make their response to God yet it often seems they fail to meet people where they really are. It seems this is always the problem. Culture is always one step ahead of religion.
‘Let us go to Bethlehem!’ How on earth are we going to understand what happened there and how are we going to respond to it? As we enter 2020 we may feel overwhelmed with our failure to respond. The mess we are in just seems too big. Pope Francis, in his Christmas message, tells us not to lose heart. Each person is called to respond as best they can. We cannot look to our government to respond, or the United Nations. They may – eventually – or they may not. What we can do is personal and individual. We take a tough look at our spontaneous responses. Where are they taking us?
29 December 2019 The Holy Family
Sir 3:2-6, 12-14 Col. 3:12-21 Matt 2:13-15, 19-23