December 25, 2003
There is nothing quite like a beautiful story. The Christmas story, the story that I just proclaimed to you, is one of the most beautiful stories ever written. It includes an emperor and a frightened band of shepherds, a long journey, and a mother’s love. It radiates with glory and the angels’ song. It would be hard to imagine a better story. Yet, the story as it is told is quite different from the story as it was lived. The story, as it stands today, moves easily from one scene to another. The difficulties have been softened and the rough twists and turns have been made smooth. But for those who lived this story, for Mary and Joseph, this beautification was not provided. Mary and Joseph lived this story through all its crises and painful decisions. For them, the Christmas story was a story of courage and faith.
Two vignettes. Two conversations between Mary and Joseph.
“Joseph, I’m pregnant.”
“But Mary, I don’t understand, we didn’t.”
“Yes, I know we didn’t, nor did I with anyone else, but what’s happening to me is unusual, strange. I only began to understand it when I saw an angel and even now, I find it hard to believe. But one thing is clear, I am pregnant.”
“Mary, I’m not ready for this. We are planning a big wedding next year. Who will this child be? I thought I knew what it was to be a father, but how will I feel about this child? Will I be able to love him as my own?”
“Joseph, I’m afraid, too, and I wouldn’t blame you if you wanted out. But somehow I believe that God is in this.”
“Yes, Mary, I think I believe that, too. If God is in this, then somehow we’ll find a way to work it out. We’ll just take it, one step at a time.”
The second conversation:
“Mary, get up, we have to go.”
“Go where? Go when?”
“Go now, go to Egypt.”
“Egypt! Joseph, I don’t understand.”
“You saw a vision of an angel. One just appeared to me in a dream to tell me that the child is in danger. We must go and go quickly.”
“But Joseph, I have barely recovered from the journey that brought us here and Egypt! Do we even know how to get to Egypt?”
“I’ll ask around. We’ll find a way. But we have no alternative. The child is in danger. It is our job to protect him. How we will protect him, I don’t know yet. But I believe that God will help us.”
“Yes, Joseph, God will guide us. I’m ready. Let’s go.”
Two conversations between Mary and Joseph. Two conversations of courage and faith. If Mary and Joseph did not have such courage and faith, we would not have a Christmas story to tell.
How many of the beautiful stories in our life result from the courage and the faith of those who came before us? Grandparents that crossed the ocean to start a family in a new world. Parents who worked and saved so that their children might have an education and a better life. People in our family who believed that God was with them and that God would help them to become the people that they needed to be. It is because of the courage and faith of those who came before us that we have the stories of our life today.
On this Christmas day, we should not only remember those who gave us those stories and be thankful for them, we should also imitate them. We should try to live our lives with a similar courage and faith. We need to be able to say to ourselves: yes, life will often be difficult and frequently I will have to face things for which I am not prepared: loss and disappointment, insecurity and danger, illness and death. In those moments I will not be sure what will happen next and there will be no guarantee that what I do will be successful. But what I can do is believe that God is with me and find the courage to take the next step. By walking in courage and in faith, I trust that I can see the journey through.
The stories as they are told are different from the stories as they are lived. The beautiful stories that we treasure today, are the results of the courage and the faith of those who lived them. Had it not been for the sacrifice and difficult choices of Mary and Joseph, we would not have a Christmas story. Had it not been for the love and dedication of those who came before us, our own stories would not exist.
On this Christmas day, the Gospel calls us to live our lives in courage and in faith. I cannot promise you that if you choose to do so, your life will be easy. You can be sure that there will be many times when you will be afraid. I can give you no assurance that you will always know where you are going. But I can promise you this: if you can believe that God is with you and be brave enough to take the next step, then some day—you will have your own beautiful story to tell.