By Susan Ciancio

One of my favorite Christmas songs is “Mary’s Boy Child” by a Euro-Caribbean group called Boney M. I like this song for many reasons: It’s joyful, it has a fun beat, it makes me feel happy, and it has some very poignant lines.

One stanza in particular stands out to me. The group sings:

For a moment the world was aglow, all the bells rang out
There were tears of joy and laughter, people shouted
“Let everyone know, there is hope for all to find peace”

As I ponder these lines, I think about the events of the past couple weeks in just my life—events that attempt to threaten this peace. A sweet relative spent a few days in the hospital. A friend lost a child. A close friend’s father died of COVID on Monday. And I found out that someone very loved by my children is battling stage 4 bone cancer.

I know that there are millions of people out there experiencing similar situations—facing loss, heartbreak, sadness, loneliness, and financial insecurity, just to name a few.

When facing tragedies such as these, especially so close to Christmas, people can’t even imagine celebrating. They feel like the life and wind have been sucked out of them. They feel alone, confused, scared, maybe even unable to function.

Those are probably similar emotions to the emotions that Mary and Joseph felt, especially when they couldn’t find a place to stay in Bethlehem and were told the only place available was a stable.

My kids and I watched The Chosen’s Christmas special a couple nights ago. In the portrayal of Christ’s birth, we watched Mary and Joseph arrive in Bethlehem. Joseph, understanding he must take care of Mary and the baby, was rightfully stressed about finding a place to stay for the night. Mary exhibited kindness and patience. And when Joseph told her they could stay in the stable, she didn’t complain. She knew Christ was coming, and she just wanted a place to rest and deliver the baby.

So they went to the stable, and Mary prepared a place for Baby Jesus while Joseph swept hay and manure.

It wasn’t perfect, but they cleaned it up as best they could in preparation.

Isn’t that what we do during Advent? We clean ourselves up knowing that the Christ Child is coming.

We say extra prayers. We do daily readings. We go to confession. We ponder the gospels. We get rid of the proverbial manure in our lives to make way for God.

But unforeseen events sometimes attempt to derail us. They come in many forms, from small things like plans not going exactly as we want to major life-altering tragedies like illness or death.

Life is incredibly difficult sometimes. And sometimes we feel crushed by the weight of everything we have to deal with. We may even think that’s it’s just too much to bear.

But then we look to the cross, and we realize, as Fr. Mike Schmitz once said, “It is not the nails that kept Jesus on the cross. It’s His love for you.” And we understand that that is why He came as a baby. He came here for us. Not just an abstract version of us or for the people who lived 2,000 years ago. But for you specifically. For me.  

When we hear songs like “Mary’s Boy Child,” and we focus on these words: “For a moment the world was aglow, all the bells rang out, there were tears of joy and laughter, people shouted ‘Let everyone know, there is hope for all to find peace,’” we must remember that Christmas comes no matter what. It may not be what we expected; it may not be what we had hoped. It may not even feel fun or joyful.

But it comes. And it comes because God loves us so much that He sent His Son to redeem us. So whether we are facing insurmountable odds or a minor inconvenience, God wants us to know that it’s okay to feel sad. It’s okay to not feel as joyous as in other years. It’s okay because He understands our pain; He walks with us through it.

And He tells us that there is always hope to find peace. The proof is in the stable.

Merry Christmas from all of us at the Culture of Life Studies Program! We hope you have a very blessed Christmas!