Christmas is a celebration of smallness. It proclaims small is beautiful… the lowly is honorable… the ordinary is extraordinary.
Just look at the major characters of the Christmas story. First, there’s Mary, a young girl (about 13 years old) from a small backwater town called Nazareth. Then there’s Joseph, her husband, a lowly carpenter. And where is Jesus born? Not in the huge city of Rome or Jerusalem, but (as the Christmas song says) in the little town of Bethlehem. And our first glimpse of “the Son of the Most High” is a squirming newborn lying in a manger. The first visitors to pay him homage are not Roman rulers or dignitaries, but a scruffy band of ordinary shepherds with their ordinary (and smelly!) sheep.
Small. Lowly. Ordinary. These are not exactly the watchwords of our day. On the contrary, ours is a world that says bigger is better, that admires immensity, that overuses prefixes such as mega, super, ultra. Ours is a world where fame and fortune, for some, are the main goals in life. Ours is a world that glorifies power and rewards audacity and even arrogance. Perhaps we need more than ever to hear this particular message of Christmas: the call to celebrate the small.
Throughout his adult ministry, Jesus showed us how to live this way. He chose for his disciples mostly ordinary and insignificant individuals. Although he preached to all, he directs his message especially to the meek and lowly. He compares the Kingdom of God to a tiny mustard seed, and he tells his followers they must become “as little children.” Finally, he says of himself, “I am meek and humble of heart.”
This appreciation of smallness and lowliness will instill in us respect for all the forms that smallness may take in our lives: inexperience, powerlessness, marginalization, vulnerability, incompleteness. And respect for “small people” in our midst: the unborn, children, the elderly, the refugee, the poor. We might ask ourselves questions such as these: How concerned am I for the children of our world? How attentive am I to their needs? How do I respond to the poor, the sick, the homeless, the abused, the physically or mentally challenged, those denied their legal rights, the imprisoned?
Other questions to ask: How do I respond when I experience smallness and lowliness within myself? Am I patient with my human failings? When I experience my powerlessness, do I throw up my hands in despair, or do I reach out my hand for the ever-ready hand of God? Am I attentive to the ordinary? Do I appreciate the familiar, the normal? In the midst of my daily struggles, do I thank God for the beauties of my everyday life?
St. Paul not only accepted his lowliness, he boasted about it. To the Corinthians he wrote these mysterious words: “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.” Why? Because St. Paul heard and believed these words of Jesus: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”
Let us pray:
God, Source of all Love, we thank you for the gift of smallness… lowliness… and ordinariness. Help us to see them as central to the Christmas story. Give us a greater attentiveness to the blessings of everyday life: the familiar individuals we interact with every day… our commonplace surroundings… our quotidian activities… our unremarkable deeds… our normal joys and struggles. Help us to accept our own failings and weaknesses, relying on your grace alive within us. Your Son Jesus came into our world in a quiet and unassuming way. He taught us to be attentive to the Divine within our midst. This Christmas, we ask for all these graces, for we truly believe that your power and goodness are at work today within us and our entire Earth Community. Amen.
Merry Christmas to all!
May the simple joys of Christmas be with you today and throughout the year!
Did anything really speak to you in today’s reflection? If so, what? Do you know why?
What are some of the “small and ordinary” things in your daily life that you really appreciate? How do you show your appreciation?
I have two videos today: a Christmas song and a song in honor of a friend who recently passed away.
Video #1: This Christmas song, “Joseph’s Lullaby,” by MercyMe celebrates smallness in a way. This version, with the pictures of babies, reminds us that Jesus came as a real baby. The song is sung from the perspective of Joseph, the lowly carpenter who calls the child “my son.”
Video #2: This song is in memory of my friend, Father Don Cozzens, a priest of the Cleveland diocese. I knew Don for about 40 years. We shared a lot in common including the ministries of teaching, formation work, and writing. I recommend three obituaries on these websites: America Magazine (Dec. 13, 2021 issue), The New York Times, and John Carroll University where Don taught and served in many other capacities.
This song was one of Don’s favorites, Dan Fogelberg’s “The Leader of the Band.” Years ago Don told me he loved this song because it captured something of the relationship he had with his own Dad. As I listen to the song now, I think some of the lyrics capture Don himself: “a quiet man… his gentle means of sculpting souls…” And some words capture what we, his many friends, are probably saying to him today: “(you) gave me a gift I know I never can repay… (your) song is in my soul… thank you for the music and your stories of the road…” And, Don, “I don’t think I said ‘I love you’ near enough…”
I invite you to add a comment below. We all enjoy hearing from you—no matter how small and ordinary you think your words may be!