Saturday, 1 January 2011

Our Christian Attitude Towards the Stranger - the Ephiphany

We join our story already in progress, as they say. The child Jesus has been born quietly and without fuss in Bethlehem. Except for an active census underway, it should go largely unnoticed. Certainly the birth happened without fanfare, almost as certainly, because of the census, it is recorded. The baby Jesus is a historical fact in our world.

The future of the world, the saviour of the world, is less than a week old. He needs to be fed, and burped. He needs to be rocked to sleep and kept warm, and raised by loving parents. From time to time he needs his diaper changed. This is a very trusting God who loves us.

When the wise men visit Mary and the baby Jesus, there’s no mention of Joseph. We don’t know where Joseph is, only that he is not mentioned in this scene. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t there, it does mean he knows his place. He has given the magi room to encounter the Christ, and he gets out of the way and lets them do so. He welcomes the strangers.

Pope Benedict XVI describes the servant nature of Joseph in another way, when he was Cardinal Ratzinger and writes in his book God is Near Us that Joseph, in early Christian art, is shown as a high priest, and archetype of the Christian Bishop and Mary as the living Church. As a result of the Holy Spirit coming down on her, Mary becomes the new temple. He writes, “Joseph, he righteous man, is appointed steward of the mysteries of God, the head of the house and guardian of the sanctuary…thus he becomes the image of the Bishop, to whom the bride is entrusted; she is placed, not at his disposal, but in his safekeeping.”

In the Church we follow the example of Joseph, we prepare a place as he did for the wise men at was, in effect, the very first Eucharistic adoration. We have the option, we can be like Herod and fear others for what they may reveal to us about our saviour and how that’s going to profoundly affect our lives, or we can be like Joseph and trust in the love of God to do his will whatever that might be, including welcoming the stranger into our place of worship, our church, our home.

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