The time came for Mary to give birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger. What a tender Christmas image. Jesus the Christ entered our world in the same way each of us did — as a fragile, vulnerable infant requiring care and nurturing in order to survive and thrive. In the divine plan for our salvation, what message are we to take away from that reality this Christmas season?
At times, we are fragile and vulnerable throughout our lives, especially when we are hungry or thirsty, ill, wounded, lonely, lost or isolated. We reach out, sometimes reluctantly, to others for guidance, sustenance, comfort, a shoulder to lean on. Thank God for companions on the journey! Perhaps that is the message we are to take away as we give birth to a renewal of our faith. We cradle the baby Jesus in our daily lives as a reminder to give of ourselves to others who are vulnerable and to receive from others when we are in need of care and support.
How do we cradle the baby Jesus? In the way a husband serves as caregiver for a wife who, because of serious illness, requires help with such basic needs as eating, bathing and dressing. In the way a friend takes time to listen to another friend, struggling with mental health issues. In the way a mentor assists a mentee with job-searching and self-sufficiency skills. In the way a teacher responds to a child struggling to understand a math problem or how to read. In the way a family prays together, at home and before a meal in the restaurant. In the way a parishioner takes the Eucharist to residents in a nursing home.
We cradle the baby Jesus when we respond to the needs of our neighbors. In the way that two diocesan staffers accompanied an immigrant father and son to Chicago to process paperwork and to assist with translation. In the way a parish priest reached out to a young man struggling with depression, making time to listen and to offer spiritual support. In the way a diocesan director continues to advocate for pro-life policies from womb to tomb, just wages for Iowans and fair and compassionate immigration laws.
A smile toward everyone who crosses our paths — in the gym, the supermarket, the coffee shop, the job site — is another way to cradle the baby Jesus this Christmas season. We cradle the baby Jesus in the way we interact with guests in soup kitchens, food pantries and homeless shelters. In the way a diocesan volunteer shops for Christmas gifts for families who would otherwise go without this year. In the way that parishioners around our diocese purchase Christmas gifts for children they will never meet.
When we respond to family members at home at the end of a long day by asking, “How was your day? What can I do for you?” we cradle the baby Jesus. When we wash dishes at home or restock paper products so others aren’t left scrambling at an inconvenient moment, we cradle the baby Jesus.
Accepting help for ourselves is one more way we cradle the baby Jesus, and it is perhaps the most challenging way of all. A gifted artist who conveys a positive attitude even as she deals with the effects of medication is cradling the baby Jesus. A wife who has lost her mobility, but smiles lovingly toward her caregiver husband — both of them cradle the baby Jesus.
Like Mary, who wrapped Jesus in swaddling clothes, a symbol of a mother’s tender love for her fragile, vulnerable infant, let us wrap each other in love this Christmas season. Let us cradle the baby Jesus in our interactions with one another.
Editor Barb Arland-Fye