There is an austerity to Matthews account of Jesus birth that, despite all the angelic intervention, I find consolingly human, an almost dutiful retelling of duty.
This is how Jesus Christ came to be born, it starts. Quickly, we learn of a betrothal, an out-of-wedlock pregnancy and an apparently kind young man willing to do the discreet thing.
All of this is resolved, of course, on the wild wings of faith.
But what lingers for me is the sense of bewilderment that must have overlaid the household of this young couple. Certainly they tested their hunches, questioned even their deepest convictions on the way to trusting each other and their God as daily life went on. What a consolation it must have been, then, (flipping back to Luke) to find the welcome embrace of Elizabeth. What wonderful instincts the writer had, for where else but in the welcome of another woman could the young Mary have begun to make as much sense of herself and her role. Is it unfaithful to the text to think that alongside the certainty expressed in the Magnificat was also a search for human assurance from someone else whose own pregnancy was out of step with her surroundings, beyond the normal experiences of a town in the hill country of Judah?
And cant we presume that these two women knew, in the deepest way, how profoundly love alters ones world? They knew, didnt they, that bearers of hope come not necessarily without their own cares and questions, but rather with a deep and even inexplicable conviction in the power of that love. How little they knew how radically their world was about to change.
So, in that spirit, we offer you the splash of color on this years cover. The brilliant stained glass piece by Lea Koesterer (see story Page 12) seems a fitting symbol of the hope in a Christmas season overwhelmed by events that threaten to drain all hope.
We are pleased to publish an illustration by artist Rita Corbin on Page 15, our Christmas poetry page. Corbins work has many times over the years graced the pages of The Catholic Worker, the publication founded by Dorothy Day.
One Sunday afternoon some weeks ago my wife, Sally, was helping me move back into refurbished office space when she found a bookmark bearing some wonderful words, that I had not seen before, in a box of old books and papers. Unknown to me, she taped the bookmark to the side of my computer screen.
I didnt discover it until I came to work the next morning, but have since considered the words it bears, words of the late Jesuit Fr. Pedro Arrupe, a lovely gift.
This being the season for sharing gifts, I pass on the words to you:
-- Tom Roberts
My e-mail address is email@example.com
National Catholic Reporter, December 21, 2001