It is a time for renewing our faith in a God who wishes to come close to us and to pitch a tent of dwelling in our midst.
During this liturgical season our Church offers us beautiful and timely reminders of this God who comes close and who desires to dwell among us as family.
The prophets proclaim messages of promise, of peace and justice, of longing and seeking for the God of life to reassure us and to remain with us all the days of our lives.
There is an urgency in the messages we hear: hold firm, take heart, rejoice in the Lord for the Lord will come and he will be called Emmanuel, because he will be God with us. This is the good news! We have a God who loves us so much as to wish to dwell among us as family.
As we move through this season, we are called to be alert, to be on the watch and to ready our hearts and minds to celebrate the birth of Christ at Christmas. That God chose to send his son Jesus into our world as a child, born into a human family, is something awesome!
All around us, in shopping malls, in schools and nursing homes, in family and friendship groups, and in our parishes, we experience another side of the waiting, preparing and longing for Christmas.
Christmas carols resound, Christmas trees and decorations appear all around us, and Santa Claus becomes an important figure. We prepare for special celebrations with family and extended family groups, we enter into the gift-buying and giving and we look forward to times of relaxation and good family times together.
All of this is good news and cause for rejoicing. For people of faith, this time is a great reminder of why we celebrate Christmas and why we make an effort also to prepare ourselves spiritually. Advent calls us to pray and get ready.
It also calls us to think outside the square and to move out of what can sometimes be described as our comfort zones so that we consciously make ourselves aware of the needy, poor and lonely people whose experience of a loving and nurturing family is vastly different.
Pope Francis affirms the role of the family as the ‘domestic church’ and speaks of family as the place where we learn respect and forgiveness, simple ways of being together and loving one another, sharing in the joys and hopes, as well as the challenges and difficulties of life.
He also acknowledges the importance of families playing and praying together, sharing their faith and sharing generously with others what they have received. Pope Francis urges families to live in faith and simplicity as the Holy Family did.
Several hundred years ago, St Francis of Assisi was so taken with the awesome truth of the Son of God being born into a human family that he wanted to share this mystery. At Greccio in Italy, Francis created the first nativity scene to show people the religious significance of Christmas.
He used a cave to create a living nativity scene with humans and animals representing the various figures present around the birth of Christ.
From this humble beginning, the use of nativity scenes has now become a wonderful feature of our looking forward with joy and hope to the coming of Christ at Christmas.
As we prepare to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas, let us be mindful of our human family in all shapes, forms and needs. The feast of the Holy Family soon after Christmas again directs us to ponder and affirm family life and to understand that God dwells among us.
Kathy Horan is liturgy educator with the Office for Worship.
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