Joseph leads the donkey that carries Mary. However, as this tableau from Breughel (The Census at Bethlehem, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lille) suggests, they will have to wait their turn to be able to be inscribed on the census lists. For many other people seem to crowd at the door of the town hall.
But what meaning do they give to their waiting?
And us? What meaning to we give to waiting for Him whom the Gospel of the Fourth Sunday of Advent calls “the Son of the Most High?” As Westerners, are we not too burdened with the concern to be efficient, too overrun by the urgency of possessing, of consuming, of controlling, of buying, to be able to give meaning to this last week of Advent?
Do we observe, not far from our homes, the displaced, immigrants perhaps, who wait for … a glance, a smile, some words or money, in order to “survive” in dignity? In the hubbub of Christmas shopping, do we hear them? Do we even see them?
Now, as the Brueghel tableau shows, cold begins to rage in northwest Europe. There is snow, in this month of December. Thus, recently, fifty homeless youths in Lille risked to suffer cruelly from the cold, and even to succumb to it. But people have mobilized, a petition has been sent to the local authorities. Housing has been opened and subsidies released. Men and women have seen the urgency of attending to those that suffering and instability disfigure.
As the philosopher Emmanuel Lévinas says, it is sometimes in these limited situations that we encounter the Face. The encounter which is nothing other than that of the Infinite God, perceived in the distance and in the nearness of those we love tenderly, or whom we regard in their extreme fragility. Now, in this last week of Advent, are we not invited to the same adventure, to the same encounter: to welcome the Face of the Infant of Bethlehem in all human fragility? We risk recognizing our own, first, to accept and to care for it. We also risk accepting that of the other, of others, in order to care for them. Is it not in fact this feast, the night of Christmas, on which we are invited to welcome and recognize the Face of the “Son of the Most High” in the infant of Bethlehem?
Marie-France Carreel rscj