“You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved” (Mt 10:22).
Why are we talking about being hated the day after Christmas? Because Jesus, this baby whose birth we just celebrated is “the light that shines in the darkness” (Jn 1:5). The very reality of Jesus is that he is the light that exposes darkness, he is the very embodiment of Love that exposes hatred.
Jesus exposes the truth of those dark places within our own hearts, minds, and the very depth of our being. Yet many of us turn away or reject the light, not aware that it is an invitation to healing and to wholeness. We wince at the luminous brightness of his light and resist the intimacy of the love he seeks to share. We have so often faced so much of the opposite; hurt, pain, betrayal, and lack of understanding or acceptance, that we assume a defensive crouch to protect our false sense of self, and as time passes we become ingrained in our pride and our posture of protecting our ego.
Yet, to be fully alive, we need to embrace the light, not hide from it. When we are open to the healing touch of Jesus and receive the gift of his light in our lives, we begin to die to our ego, we begin to replace our actions of vice with actions of virtue. Once we allow ourselves to be loved by Jesus, we begin to recognize that we are turned in upon ourselves, and then we can adjust our posture and begin to open ourselves to him. We also begin to recognize that we are not the center of the universe. We then will be able to love, to will the good of the other.
As we follow the model of John the Baptist and become less so that Jesus becomes more in our lives, we will face the same rejection that Jesus faced. We will be labeled crazy, out of step, simple-minded, irrational, and worse, as St Stephen found out, whose martyrdom we celebrate today. Yet we are to resist returning to a defensive posture, we are to refuse to react in kind, but instead, be present and allow God to happen. We are to assume a posture of openness, accepting the person where they are and as they are, and share the same transformative mercy, love, and forgiveness of Jesus we have received from our attacker.
Change, maturation, and growth are not easy. That is why we are called disciples. We are to be disciplined and persevere, while at the same time remember that our redemption does not come from our own doing or willing it to be so on our own efforts alone. Our healing, restoration, and transformation come first and foremost from a willingness to accept the invitation to receive the blessing of Jesus, an invitation to receive the healing salve of his love, mercy, and forgiveness. May we be willing to be healed and transformed from our bias, prejudice, hatred, and selfishness. May we be willing to be conformed to Jesus and so step out of our comfort zones, and with courage be more loving, merciful, and forgiving with our family, friends, and enemies.
Transformation is not a one-time event, Christmas is not just a day, it is not just a season. Christmas is a way of allowing Jesus to enter into and transform our lives each and every day, each and every moment, with each and every decision. When we are tempted with impatience, call on the name of Jesus and take a few deep breaths. When we are tempted to judge, may we see the baby Jesus in the manger, weak, vulnerable, and in need, so to see the one we are about to judge with understanding, mercy, and love that wills their good. When we are tempted to react negatively or defensively, let us visualize ourselves kneeling before the Christ child as we surrender our will, our ego, so to share our point of view as an invitation, not as an imposition, and allow others to do the same.
May we be more committed each day going forward into the new year to being open to receiving the light, love, mercy, and forgiveness that Jesus has come to bring, so to be healed by him and so to be willing to grow in our relationship with him and one another.