“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling [pitched his tent] among us” – Jn 1:14
The most memorable and meaningful Christmas celebrations for me have been with my family and God’s poor. In 1996 with ethnic minorities in Central Vietnam. In 2010 with indigenous people in the remote mountain villages of Tanudan, Northern Philippines. In the past three years with kids at Dorothy Kirby Juvenile Detention Center in Los Angeles. Last year with my family soon after the death of my young cousin Thy and just before my parents’ 50th Anniversary.
The common denominator seems to be about first loves: my first love, my family; and God’s first love, the poor and marginalized. From my family, I learned about the nearness of acceptance, forgiveness, faith, believing in and empowering in each other to grow through joys and struggles. From those on the margins of society, I learned about God’s consistent presence and sacrificing love. In 1996, I celebrated Mass with some underground catechists in training so they can return to witness and pass on the faith among their people. They did so at the cost of imprisonment, for it is illegal under Communist Vietnam to proselytize. When asked why they would take such risks, they replied consistently: “We cannot but proclaim a God who is willing to come and be with us, to love and help us.”
Each Christmas, we celebrate the love of a God who humbly became human like us. Jesus, Word of God, Who is God, became one of us. He “pitches his tent” next to ours, lived among us, ate like us, suffered with us, for us, to save us. He came as a child, a poor child, born in a humble manger, into a poor family. To serve and give his life because he loves us. He wants to make us God’s home, God’s favorite hiding place. Like people who love – crazy in love - God wants to be one with us, very near to us, tenderly.
What’s amazing is that while making us his favorite hiding place, Jesus makes God his favorite resting place. He is “at the Father’s side,” literally, “at the breast” or “bosom”—an image of abiding intimacy (Jn 1:18). Their intimacy is fruitful; their love goes out, giving birth to all that lives. From the crib to the cross, this self-emptying love pours forth through families and people on the frontiers.
As we celebrate Christmas, let us rest at home (and in the bosom of God). Let us also “pitch our tent” with the most vulnerable and needy. Listen to the Urbi et Orbi message of our brother Francis and consider concrete way to reach out to our sisters and brothers in South Sudan, Syria, Philippines. May Christ’s peace and joy be with you and your families!
Jesus, help us celebrate your coming-near with our and your first loves.