Christmas in Bethlehem. A chat with Jesus
It is night in Bethlehem. Silence envelops us, an unusual silence for a city that, especially at Christmas time, is full of life and people. A light stands out in the sky of Bethlehem. It is not a star brighter than the others, but Jupiter and Saturn aligned to form a single bright star. This has not happened for 800 years. Some scholars say that the star that lit up that night, the night Jesus was born, was actually the result of the planetary conjunction of Jupiter, Saturn and Venus. What a strange night this 2020. “It’s just as you say!” A man approaches. He wears a white robe and wears sandals on his feet in the middle of winter. “The night I was born there was a light in the sky that illuminated the whole earth. My mother used to tell me this”. I can’t believe what I’m hearing and remain speechless, my mouth slurred with astonishment and disbelief. “I don’t understand… What do you mean sir?”, I manage to answer after a few moments.
“Of course, the night I was born, here over two thousand years ago, in Bethlehem in a cave,” the man repeats naturally. “I don’t understand,” I reply incredulously, “You were born in Bethlehem? Two thousand years ago?” “Exactly. My mother followed her husband Joseph to Bethlehem. They had to register for a census. My mother was pregnant, in her ninth month. They couldn’t find a place in the village and were advised to try the shepherds’ caves. That’s where I was born. “Thank you, but everyone knows this story, it’s written in the Gospel, it’s how Jesus was born!”, I reply a little irritated. “And who do you think you’re talking to right now?’ the man replies. He has a warm, encouraging smile and bright eyes. He takes me by the hand and leads me towards the Basilica. The moment he touches me, all fears and doubts disappear. I follow him without fear.
“Why did you come back?”, I ask him after a few steps. “Why tonight, why to Bethlehem?”. “I come back every year, only people don’t always notice.”
“Jesus can I ask you a question? Why Bethlehem of all places?” “It’s very simple. I chose to be born in Bethlehem because it was a small place, a suburb of the province of Judah. I chose the last place, humility and hiddenness. That is the choice of Christmas”.
“And where would you like to be reborn today?” “I would be reborn in a periphery, a term that dear Pope Francis often uses. In all places of poverty, in all situations of greatest suffering, where there is war. Indeed, perhaps, particularly this year, I would like to be reborn again in Bethlehem. Bethlehem, of all the Holy Land, is one of the cities suffering the most at this time. That is precisely why I would be reborn here, because my city, which grew up in the light of my Christmas, is experiencing this impossibility of celebrating it as usual”. He added: “But above all, there is a place where I want to be born every day, and that is in the soul of each one of you. I would like to be born in the heart of each one of you”.
“Many people, however, are experiencing great suffering and difficulties. Why all this suffering? What does the suffering of the present time mean for the life of each one of us?”
“I have come precisely to share the suffering of men. Do you see that oriental icon? – and points to one of the icons in the Basilica – it shows me as a child, wrapped in the swaddling clothes of the tomb. My Father took flesh in me so that he could do the one thing that he, as God, could not do: die. I was born to die. This suffering must not be experienced as God’s revenge, as punishment. I was born to help people carry the weight of their cross. We must help our brothers and sisters to carry this burden. I was born poor, in a cave and with nothing, but Mary and Joseph tried to make me feel good even if my condition was not optimal”.
“But how can we not be crushed by this weight?”
“Let yourselves be helped in relieving pain. Accept also acts of charity from your brothers. On the other hand, try to seize the small opportunities for consolation and relief that life offers. Avoid seeing everything in black. I know that many people say that this 2020 is a tragedy and do not even see that spark of light that could illuminate the darkness. But the light is there, it exists, it is present.”
“You are right, in what situations do you think your light is needed?”
“The situations of darkness in the world are many. So many have lost a loved one and are suffering a lot. They have lost their jobs and are in dire financial straits. All the people who are suffering the most in this situation, they are the ones who need light the most. You know, light also means intelligence, I would like to bring a little light into the minds of the rulers too, because they are the ones who have to take important decisions at this time. But Light must be all Christians, bishops, priests, religious and all Christians. You are called to be the light for the brothers”.
“It is true Lord, you light the way. But this Christmas is different from the others. Look at Bethlehem! There is a silence, never heard before! Many Christians will not be able to attend the Christmas Mass!”
“There is a sad silence, the silence of death, of loss and abandonment. In this year humanity has had much experience of it. An empty silence in the houses, in the streets where you can no longer hear the children playing. This silence is not good and should not be forgotten. But there is also another silence, that of interiorisation and recollection. This you must live and cultivate. The value of silence in this very different Christmas. It is the value of recognising God’s presence in small things, the silence that allows us to pay more attention to the suffering of our brothers and sisters, that leads to the essential. Perhaps even silence from external gifts to go and discover the value of family and loved ones. Less expensive gifts, but made with the heart, dedicating time to the people around you. Silence is also intimacy. Positive silence of familiarity with God. I am with you, don’t forget that”.
And after these last words I see him disappear in the same mysterious way he had approached. That light and warmth remains impressed. It will not be a Christmas like any other, it is true, but perhaps it will allow us to return to its truest meaning. And it will be Christmas more than any other.