With a little stretch of imagination, I think of the stable in Bethlehem as far very different from the fascinating and creative cribs we see at Christmas time.
There were no colourful streamers or tinsels on the roof, but probably cobwebs. There were no serial light settings but may be, just a lamp enough for Jesus, Mary and Joseph to look at each other. There were no fountains and fish-filled ponds but troughs of water for the cattle. There were no sweet-smelling room-fresheners but the odour of the stable. There was no green grass on the floor but dry hay strewn all over.
Though the stable was not a comfortable looking place for a child to be born, our cribs today depict a lot of grandeur and pleasantness surrounding the baby Jesus. It is because Christians believe that hope came down at Christmas. This hope finds expression in the Green grass (prosperity and plentiful), water fountains and fish-filled ponds (life in abundance), colourful lights (to dispel the darkness in our hearts), sweet-smelling fragrances (to indicate that true love spreads), streamers and tinsels (to declare a celebration).
The summary of all these external manifestations is a celebration of God taking the form of human flesh and choosing the lowliest of places to manifest Himself. “Though He (Jesus) was in the form of God, He did not count equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied Himself taking the form of a slave and being born in human likeness”. (Philippians 2:1-5). The Christmas story is God identifying Himself with the human condition.
There is great joy when we meet God, but there is greater joy when God comes to meet us. God comes to meet only those who long for that meeting. And those who long for that meeting are those who have emptied themselves. The Shepherds had emptied themselves and waited. They were the first to hear the good news and to see Jesus. They became Holy when they saw in the birth of Jesus, see God becoming part of their human condition.
True Holiness is measured, more in terms of relationships than by the number of pilgrimages one makes or sacrifices or rituals one performs . To become more Holy means to become more involved in the human condition, to look to the one in need; to help dispel the darkness from the lives of others, to find ways to alleviate the pain and suffering of others. The eternal theme running through Jesus’ preaching was “love of God and love of neighbour” and “neighbour” is anyone who is in need of our help, our love, our understanding, our consolation.
When you empty yourself in all humility and look to the needs of those suffering, you grow in holiness. When you grow in Holiness, you will see how God comes to meet you even before you go out to meet Him.