Underneath the stars, just a simple man and wife,
Somewhere in the dark, his words cut the silent night –
“Take my hand, for the Child that you carry is God’s own,
And though it seems the road is long,
We’re not that far from Bethlehem.”
(Hopefully the above link works. It’s supposed to link to a video for the Christmas carol “Not that far from Bethlehem” by Point of Grace – see the footnote!)
It’s just a week til Christmas. I have very confused feelings around this time of year. Advent has passed so very quickly. It’s a time I really wish everything would slow down. I struggle all the more with relationships, especially in the family, and the knowledge that I am not what I should be is all the more painful. This must be normal for everyone, to some extent, I think. I think the more expectations there are, the more distance and emptiness hurts.
Feeling so weak, though it’s one of the most (if not the most) abundant times of hope and grace. It’s the time that Our Lord Jesus came to us, to love and heal and forgive us. It’s the root of our faith. Yet, this time of year it’s harder day to day and I feel all the more that I’m failing precisely because of my fear and emptiness.
Prayer and hope can seem nearly impossible and just as I feel a terrible darkness that seems to black out everything else when I’m distressed about interpersonal relationships, losses and so on, in the same way I can enter this state if I start to fear my God. The faith that at other times sustains me becomes a source of utter pain, “knowing” that I’m bad and can never be “enough” or with Him.
I start to make my God a sort of compilation of all the terrors and obsessional thoughts in my head, making God a punishing judge, who is angry with me and knows I am evil inside and cannot wait to punish and reject me for it.
This is so very dangerous. God is not the sum of my fears. My relationship with God does not depend on my thoughts, fears, hallucinations and sickness. When I read God’s Word in the Bible, He tells me that “perfect Love casts out fear”. He does not say we must be enough, but only “come to Me”. He does not say we must perfect ourselves to earn His love, but “you did not choose me but I [Jesus] have chosen you” and that we love because He loved us first and lifted us up in His arms.
So, this time of year, I try to answer His gentle voice, “come”. In prayer, I meditate upon drawing close to Jesus, Mary and Joseph at the stable in Bethlehem that first Christmas. Jesus Christ, who is all Love, is come to us as a helpless little baby, to share with us every joy, every suffering, every need, every feeling. He chose a young and poor woman, to be his Mother and to answer “yes” to God’s call, and through her “yes” and through her body, He came into the world. He was born in the “stable so bare” as the carol says, laid in a manger. He did not ask riches or a palace or great astounding things. He asked only love and a place in our hearts.
As Christ was born in that poor empty stable at Bethlehem, so He will come into our poor empty hearts. It does not matter if my heart is empty – there is the more space there for him to fill. It does not matter that I feel I have nothing to give him. A baby asks nothing but love and to be with us always. So does the Christ Child. He will fill my heart and He will be everything I am not. No amount of pain that I may feel can change that.
So I say yes, and in prayer and meditation I kneel close to the manger, and I wait and watch and hope and rejoice, with Mary and St Joseph. There we gather united with everyone who struggles, longs and hopes. However dark it seems, however long this road is, even in the midst of this most awful pain, we can never be far from Bethlehem.
We’re not that far from Bethlehem, where all our hope and joy began
For in our arms we’ll cherish Him,
No we’re not that far from Bethlehem.
Lyrics and score by Point of Grace – film extracts from “The Nativity” – with thanks to Crisen de Guzman for the video – all rights belong to the respective artists