IMAGE Publishing graciously asked me to write a post about Scott Hahn’s latest book, Joy to the World. Partly out of necessity (what with finals falling from on high upon me) I have decided to do another “blogging through a book.” They will, needless to say, be short, but will try and pick out one idea per chapter to meditate on for the week in advent.
In his first chapter, “A Light Goes on Bethlehem,” Dr. Hahn relates the story of his daughter Hannah being in Jerusalem on a family trip. She’s bored to tears by historical sites – even as they’re visiting the site where Jesus was born (which was attested to by the earliest Christian sources). But her encounter with the Holy Land is transformed at a nearby orphanage. There small orphans need to be held and Hannah lights up and eagerly cradles and cares for the orphans. Here the difference between an inherited Christianity and a lived Christianity is seen. The lived Christianity is the fulfillment of the most beautiful theory of Christ, and far more powerful.
Hahn writes, “The family is the key to Christmas. The family is the key to Christianity. Pope Saint John Paul II noted that everything good – history, humanity, salvation – ‘passes by way of the family.’ […] Salvation itself finds meaning only in familial relations.”
Christmas most explicitly is seen in relations of dependence. God is so humble as to make Himself need one of his creations, namely, Mary. Scott Hahn points out, Christ is not the classical hero – he’s not here to win glory or to conquer nations in the conventional manner. “He is visible only because other arms are holding him,” Hahn writes.
What does this mean, that Christ makes Himself need us? It certainly throws most of our ideas about ourselves and God out of balance. God is no longer only a rule-maker and a law-giver. Nor is he simply a lover of mankind. He does something much more unexpected and radical. He gives Himself to us so that we can love Him. Which means that He mysteriously places himself in a position of human need.
One of my friends told me about a family practice of placing a piece of straw under the bed of Jesus in the creche set for every good deed they would perform during Advent. While almost humorous, such a family tradition strikes at a humble Christian truth: God allows Himself to need us and we can therefore minister to Him – through our families. As Mother Teresa said, “What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.”
The family then becomes where the image of Christ is most clearly seen, and perhaps particularly in how we can give to our family members – in how Christ is made present through their need and through the gift of their presence.