No one is excluded
A catechist in a parish in Pakistan asked me to examine the children he had been preparing for First Communion and Confirmation. Most of the children did not attend school, so I asked them some very simple questions about the faith. But the catechist was eager to impress me with what he had taught them. “Tell Father the name of the birthplace of Jesus Christ,” he said. One little girl immediately shouted: “Lahore.” This was the big city some twenty miles away, where in her mind everything happened. Her reply brought widespread laughter. One little boy with a sense of superiority looked at her and said: “Everyone knows that Jesus was born in Bethlehem.”
The boy was right about the historical location of Jesus’ birth, but I felt the girl was right at a much deeper level. What she was saying is that Jesus Christ is born in our place and among us. Her reply also reminded me that Jesus is born among the poor, the illiterate, and the marginalised of this world, to which she belonged.
The celebration of Christmas is about the outreach of our compassionate God to all of us. In sending Jesus Christ, he shows us his unbounded love and generosity. No one is excluded from God’s unconditional acceptance and love.
As the messenger of God’s all-inclusive hospitality, Jesus was born in a situation of marginalisation, in a stable because there was no room for him at the inn. During his ministry, he spent a lot of time association with the poor, the excluded, and the outcasts of society.
Columban missionaries work in many places where people live in extreme poverty on the margins of society, often neglected and even regarded as outcasts. Ongoing support makes it possible for us to continue Jesus’ outreach to the poor and forgotten of society. In reaching out to the poor with us, we are part of God’s compassionate outreach in Jesus Christ and we are entering the true meaning and spirit of Christmas.
What we are meant to experience in looking at the small child in the manger is God’s unbounded love, blessings and peace that Jesus at his birth brings into the world.
Fr. Tom O’Reilly is the Regional Director of St Columban's, Britain.