December 22, 2019 – by Fr. Bruce Bavinger, S.J.
It is the Fourth Sunday of Advent, and Christmas Eve is in just a couple days. Perhaps many of us are already hearing the angels proclaiming to the shepherds: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” But other types of experiences can shape part of our celebration of the Nativity. We have challenges that affect us as much in this season as in other times of the year: personal disappointments, misfortunes that happen to us, the challenges we face in our families, the injustices in this and other countries that seem never to change. It is very possible that with these difficulties many of us continue looking for the “perfect Christmas” that always escapes us.
But the Gospel we hear on this Fourth Sunday of Advent has something more important to teach us about our longing for the “perfect Christmas.” Mary is expecting a son, but she still has not lived with Joseph. He is planning to leave her quietly, we are told. We can imagine Joseph’s anger and sadness, and also Mary’s fear and disappointment. The two of them wanted to do the will of God, and now their hopes are frustrated. Until the angel of the Lord comes to Joseph in a dream and speaks to him! Joseph obeys and does what the angel tells him, and God becomes incarnate perfectly in the world to save us from our sins. So, the first “perfect Christmas” had to happen for the sake of our imperfect human condition, so that God’s infinite love for use would be manifested.
It is worth remembering Pope Francis’s trip to Paraguay in 2015, one of his first trips as pope. While he was there, the pope spoke with some young people who came to see him. Pope Francis spoke to them about solidarity, hope, and the importance of knowing Jesus. He added that in order to have these virtues, “it takes sacrifice and going against the culture.” Pope Francis said to the young people: “Make a mess, but also help to clean up and organize that mess. A mess that gives us hope, that is born of having known Jesus.”
For Pope Francis, a perfect Christmas begins with us “making a mess” — that is to say taking a risk, seeing and speaking out about bad situations, doing something new, something different, something for justice, something that could change the misfortunes of the present so that the blessed future might arrive. Make and embrace a mess, and change it with love so that it no longer hinders life but becomes the new creation that Jesus brings, one that truly praises our Lord.
Fr. Bruce Bavinger, S.J., is a Jesuit of the Maryland Province. He lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and is part of the team at St. Raphael the Archangel Parish in Raleigh.
This reflection was translated from the original Spanish version.