Yesterday, my little sister finished her last day of high school of the year, and I have only been in the safe, warm place I call home for the last couple of days. Yet, there are still Christmas presents left to buy, dessert recipes left to search for, and the Christmas countdown continues to tick away…talk about feeling unprepared! As unprepared as I feel for the Christmas holiday, however, I cannot imagine how it must have felt to have been living at the time of Jesus’ birth. Today’s readings, thankfully, gave me a sense of what it might have been like.
After all, being prepared for Jesus’ birth has always been a struggle. Before Jesus’ birth, as Isaiah 9 foretells, people who both actively walked and passively dwelt in darkness would see a great light (Isaiah 9:2). Light they might not have been prepared for, might not even have been looking for at times, yet light that would come, even as they were immersed in their own sorrows. We see this lack of preparedness for what is coming also in Luke 2, just before Jesus’ birth, where there is no space for Mary and Joseph in the inn. At the time when Mary and Joseph had come up to Bethlehem, the rest of the world was in the process of being enrolled, going about their daily activities, not ready at all for something like the coming of a Savior. Even after Jesus’ birth, the shepherds did not understand what the angel of the Lord could have referred to in announcing “good news of great joy;” yet when the shepherds saw Jesus, they came back praising God for what they had seen (Luke 2: 8-18). Thus, in many ways, this challenge of being prepared for the birth of a Savior has persisted.
As a kid, I always thought that the turning away of Mary and Joseph at the inn was poor preparation. How could there not be room for them in the inn? But now, I know it signifies something more deep—an indication that people were not yet ready to embrace Jesus in this world, not only because they did not know who He was, and not only because the might not have been ready physically to host him, but because they were not prepared to accept Him in their hearts.
If only they had heeded the decrees or known what good that preparation and acceptance would be. Because, unlike the unpleasant, bright light of the morning reflecting off snow when all you want to do is stay curled up in bed, this great light that was Jesus would be pure joy and would lift burdens (Isaiah 9:2-4). To enable people to try to understand what that joy might be like, Isaiah 9 compares the joy of Jesus’ coming to the joy we feel at the harvest or in the division of spoils, which are joys that those people are more familiar with and have experienced (Isaiah 9:3). Hundreds of years later, we still have to compare that joy to joys that we know, by making Christmas into the big production that it is—beautiful lights, gifts from our loved ones, delicious desserts. At the end of the day, however, none of these elements of what we see as “Christmas” accurately describe the true joy that is Christmas. Today’s readings have reminded me that, important as it is to check off those items on my list before December 25, we should continue to prepare our hearts in thoughtful prayer and joy as we await the one thing we never can be quite prepared for—Jesus, himself.
Olivia Velasquez ’19 is an Integrative Biology concentrator in Quincy.