"COME TO ME, ALL YOU WHO LABOUR AND ARE BURDENED, AND I WILL GIVE YOU REST." (MATTHEW 11:28)"

“Now is the time of God’s favour” (2 Cor 6:2) 

Fr Augustine Vallooran, VC

Christmas is the celebration of God’s uncalculated generosity
towards the helpless and ungodly. St Paul gives an apt
description of this mercy. “The love of God has been poured out
into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us.
For Christ, while we were still helpless, yet died at the appointed
time for the ungodly” (Rom 5:5,6). The birth, life and death of
Jesus confirm in our hearts the abundant mercy of God. 
 
The chosen lamb
There is a captivating fable about a little lamb named Ephraim. He
lived with his aged mother, several other sheep and the
shepherds in a large cave not far from the town. His mother
lovingly called him ‘Eph’. He was white but speckled with black
patches. Eph felt isolated and sad when he saw the other lambs
quite different from him with snow white fleece. He felt all the
more sad when he saw the other lambs frolicking around for he
was crippled and could limp but slowly.


One day the shepherds decided to take all the sheep of the fold
on an outing to the nearby hills. Eph felt excited and was
prepared to leave with his friends. But the others laughed at him
hobbling along. The shepherd gave a pat on the back and told
Eph gently that it was a long journey and he would not be able to
make it. Eph and his mother stayed behind. The mother consoled
him “Don’t be sad little Eph! God has a special grace for those
who are left out.” Eph turned back and began limping away. He
looked at the sheep and the shepherds happily skipping around inthe grass.

A little tear rolled down the eyes of Eph. It was evening
and the mother slowly led Eph to the warmth of the cave and
invited him to eat some hay. The mother put Eph to sleep and lay
beside the little lamb.


About midnight Eph got up frightened and called his mother,
whispering that he could see something moving in the manger.
They looked up across the dimly lit stable and saw a tiny baby
lying on some fresh hay in the feeding trough. A young woman
was resting near the baby. Both the mother and Eph were very
shocked at the sight of the humans there in their little abode. The
baby began to cry because it was very cold. The woman picked
up the baby and held it close to her comforting the child. Eph
looked around the stable for something that would give warmth to
the baby. The shepherds had taken all the blankets. Eph
remembered his own soft warm fleece. Timidly he walked over
and curled up close to the baby. “Thank you little lamb!” the
baby’s mother whispered gently. The baby went back to sleep.


Soon a man entered the stable carrying some rags. “I’m sorry
Mary,” he explained, “this is all that I could find.” “It’s okay,” she
answered, “this little lamb has kept the infant King warm.” Eph
wondered what that meant, not understanding how a king could
be found in a stable. Just then the shepherds came rushing into
the cave all excited. Now at midnight they had returned from their
outing. They exclaimed, “We saw a bright light and heard the
message of the angels of heaven.” They turned to Eph and
exclaimed, “Do you know this baby is the newborn King of all the
earth?” The mother of the Baby holding the little lamb close to her
said, “God has heard your prayers and come to be with you.”


Eph understood that this was a special child and it was a special
moment. He also understood why he had been born with a
crippled leg. Had he been like the rest of the flock, he would have
been out on the hills.

The baby would have remained cold and
crying. And he could have never been among the first to welcome

Jesus to the world. Eph told his mother, “You were right. God has
got a special place for me in his heart.” 


The wounded and the marginalised of society were precious to
Him. It is for them that He came.  


The favourite title that Jesus used for himself is “I am the Good
Shepherd” (Jn 10). It is more than a title for it expresses the
reason of his coming to the earth and the mission for which he
lived. “I came so that they might have life and have it more
abundantly. I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down
his life for the sheep” (Jn 10:10,11). Christmas is a celebration of
this assurance given to everyone who believes in Him, specially
the wounded and the marginalised. In the world, celebrations are
for the rich and the powerful. For those of us who believe in
Jesus, it is an answer to the brokenness of our life. As Emmanuel,
God is always for us, especially in the moments of our isolation
and helplessness. He is a God who comes in search of us in such
moments to make our life a celebration.


A most memorable Christmas

I recollect my first Christmas in Italy while I was pursuing my
studies at Rome. I was sent to a remote village parish in Northern
Italy to hear confessions on the eve of Christmas. They were
pious villagers and many of them came for Confession during the
day. There was a grand celebration at midnight, after which the
parish priest left to spend Christmas Day with his family. My train
from that village back to Rome was only in the evening. The
parish priest assured that there was enough food in the fridge for
the day. In the morning I woke up and I found the presbytery, the
church and the surroundings deserted. I could hear the faint
sounds of singing and laughter from the village. I felt very lonely
and abandoned. I began to feel nostalgic remembering Christmas
celebrations at home. I had nothing else to do that day except to
wait for the train in the evening. In the biting cold I could not even
venture out for a walk. I went into the Church and stood by the crib awhile.

I prayed meditating on the mystery of incarnation.
Soon I saw the figure of Jesus in the crib come alive. His hands
were opened welcoming me and his eyes were on me with tender
compassion. I knelt down there offering myself to my God and
feeling His tender love filling my heart. All the sorrow of loneliness
vanished and the joy of being loved took over my heart. As I
walked out of the church humming the ancient carol ‘Silent Night’,
I met a man who approached me wishing me joyfully. He was a
parishioner. He invited me to have lunch with his family. They had
three little children who were overjoyed to have a surprise guest.
It turned out to be a most memorable Christmas being held in the
embrace of God’s love.


It is sad that we allow situations to darken our hearts. If only we
turn to the Lord we will find him waiting to shower His love into our
hearts. The love we experience in our God will enable us to rise
above our circumstances and share it with others.
 
Christmas invites us to wait to listen to the knock of Jesus every
time we are wounded either spiritually or mentally or physically.
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice
and opens the door, then I will enter his house and dine with him,
and he with me” (Rev 3:20). This assurance gives us great
confidence in our day to day life. Christmas celebration does not
pass by as an annual event. It is an integral part of our faith that
God comes into our hearts at every moment of our distress.
Hence the Bible with the words, “Yes I am coming soon. Amen.
Come Lord Jesus!” (Rev 22:20). This expectant waiting for the
Lord and experiencing His presence in our life is what Christmas
is all about. 
 
Prayer

Lord God of heaven and earth, you have come to make your
dwelling with us. We shall never ever again grieve in the land of
gloom and loneliness. We thank you for stretching out your hand
and consoling us in our every moment of rejection and hurt, for
raising us up when we were let down. May the light of your love fill
every home and heart this Christmas. Amen.

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