As Christmas time approaches, and as a young girl away from her family for the first time during this beautiful season, the lyrics from the popular Christmas carol I’ll Be Home for Christmas play over and over in my head. On one hand, the lyrics bring me back home to the cheerful warmth of my family when we sing Christmas carols together, and on another note I become quite sad with the realization that I won’t be home for Christmas. So what will Christmas be for me? What is the mysterious joy and curiosity that is growing in my heart and which lies underneath the sadness of being so far away from home?
Recently my community along with our friends at Spirit and Letter (Dukh i Litera) published and presented Fr. Thierry De Roucy’s book Christmas, a Mystery. I wish I could say that I received “ spiritual and Christmasy inspiration” from reading this book, but unfortunately I am not able to understand all of the texts, as I am still learning Ukrainian and slowly forgetting all the French I learned. Presenting the book, while not understanding the content of it, brought me to think about someone who is very important in the Christmas story. St. Joseph is often times over looked as someone who simply helped Mary to find a stable in which she could birth her Son. If we look deeper at the character of St. Joseph, we find someone who lived the Christmas story in a very different and quiet way. St. Joseph had absolutely no idea what had happened to Mary, someone he thought he knew very well. He could not have, as we do not, understand how Mary could bear this Son of hers by the power of God. He could not have comprehended why God had chosen him to leave his life, his reputation, his hopes and dreams to carry out a lifelong task that was a mystery to him. He entered into a “spiritual poverty”, as Fr. Marie- Dominique Phillippe says (in his book the Mystery of Joseph), and emptied his heart of any desires for control or personal satisfaction. He accepted the poverty of loving Mary, his wife and God’s treasured daughter, in a different way than he expected to love her when he first met her. With this poverty and with the grace of humility that was given him through this poverty, Joseph embarked on a journey that took him far away from home. He traveled a great distance away from both his physical home, and the home in his heart, a place where he before hand had the comfort and peace of a normal lifestyle. We can assume that through this poverty and obedience to God and his commitment to Mary and Jesus, Joseph was invited in a special way to experience this Christmas time in particularly beautiful way. I can only imagine what was going through Joseph’s mind as he stood behind Mary and the Newborn when the shepherds and wisemen came to give hommage to this Mystery that he embraced without understanding. The confusion, sorrow, and heaviness he must have felt at this task of being a father to Jesus and leaving his home; but also the peace he must have felt, the joy he must have experienced from the interior mystery which was given to him to contemplate in his own heart.
St. Joseph is a wonderful example to me. I have gladly chosen to embrace a new culture, to learn their ways and their language. When I left home, I didn’t expect to have to embrace a new Christmas! I see now, that by embracing these traditions, these new ways of life for myself, I am not being asked to change my own traditions. I am not being called to carry out my own traditions either. I am being invited to contemplate a mystery—two actually! One, being the mystery of the communications between cultures; how to find a new gaze upon a new custom when perhaps all I want is to run to the comfort of my home, whether that be in my heart and mind with my set traditions or to my physical home back in the States! The second mystery I am invited into is indeed—the mystery of the Christmas! What is the joy of this Newborn bundle of light? How can I come to understand this great event better? In the different encounters I make with my friends here in this far away place, where is the Newborn joy, or the simpleness of the stable and shepherds, or the grandeur of the wisemen?
What a wonderful invitation! It is a mission, a study, a contemplation, and above all a joy! The spiritual poverty of St. Joseph is such a beautiful example for all to follow. His embrace of the Christmas is a light by which we can also experience the mystery of the Christ and too, the mystery of his people. So, perhaps I won’t be home for Christmas, but I look forward to the fruits of this Christmas in Ukraine! I look forward speaking an interior language, and going deeper into the lesson of learning how to gaze upon what I don’t understand… and embracing the light and glory that is both the Newborn King, and His beloved Ukrainian culture!