And this will be a sign for you…

 

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“Adoration of the Shepherds” (detail) by Balestra

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone…”

After four weeks of waiting—if we have really waited well—these words that greet us during the Church’s liturgy on Christmas night might bring joyful tears to our eyes.  That is the purpose of Advent—to stir up in our hearts the anticipation for our Savior, to feel the emptiness that the Christ child has come to fill, to yearn for an answer to our inadequacies, to get some glimpse of what the Jewish people longed for centuries.

“For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests.”

At last, he has come.

In the darkness of a still night, the Savior breathes the air of earth for the first time.  What accompanies this earth-shattering moment?  What greets this pivotal point in history?  What marks this juncture of heaven meeting earth?

“And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”

The account of Jesus’ birth is not marked with miracles but with ordinary details—details about who is governor, where Joseph is from, and the simple fact that Mary gave birth.  “While they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”

Could a simpler account of a baby’s birth be written? It was time for Mary to give birth, and she did.

The marvels don’t come until almost halfway into the story, when angels appear to the shepherds. But while the shepherds see a glorious heavenly host of angels, the sign they’re given to look for is much less spectacular.  Go look for a baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes.

“For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests.”

We want signs and proof and miracles.  But God gives us ordinary life.  At the most important moment in human history, the King of kings and Lord of lords comes to us as baby.  In the darkness of the night, in the fullness of time, what awaits the shepherds who seek this sign in faith?  Ordinary life.  A father caring for his wife who has just given birth.  A mother nursing her son.  A family being a family.

In the dark moments of our lives, we seek answers and signs and miracles.  Perhaps we receive those miracles.  But perhaps more often the answers come to us in the mantle of ordinary life.  It takes more faith to accept these answers, just as it takes more faith to bow before a baby in swaddling clothes than a king in splendid robes.

We have waited, and he has come. But are we ready now to follow- even when the signs and narrative are not what we expected?  That question isn’t just for our elder brothers in faith, but is a daily question we must answer with our lives.

“For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.”

Merry Christmas!

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About the Author

Joannie Watson

Joan Watson was born and raised in Lafayette, Indiana, but college and graduate school took her to Virginia, Ohio, and Rome. After graduating from Christendom College with a B.A. in History and Franciscan University with a M.A. in Theology, she moved to Nashville, Tennessee to be part of the explosion of Catholic culture in the middle of the Bible Belt.

She has been blessed to work for Dr. Scott Hahn at the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology and the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia at Aquinas College. She is presently the Director of Adult Formation for the Diocese of Nashville. She also serves as the Associate Editor of Integrated Catholic Life.

When she’s not testing the culinary exploits of new restaurants or catching up on the latest BBC miniseries, she’s FaceTiming with her eight nephews and nieces and enjoying her role as coolest aunt. She likes gelato, bourbon, and the color orange.

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