Almost 25 years ago, I spent Christmas with a family who had one son who was adored by everyone. However, that Christmas there was another child present who had been semi-fostered. She stayed with them for some weekends and most of the school holidays. At first, the girl looked bewildered and not a little disappointed when she was given her Christmas present from under the tree, for when she unwrapped the parcel all she found was a bundle of papers. Then it was explained to her that they were her papers of adoption. From then on, she was a full member of the family. She didn’t need to go back to the orphanage at the end of the holiday. In fact, she did not need to go back ever again. Tears of joy just rolled down her cheeks, and she ran over to her new Father and hugged and hugged him. He told her they had no choice with their own son, they accepted and loved him when he came, but she was very special because they had chosen her when they need not have chosen her at all.
A Home of Their Own
What better gift can anyone receive than a home of their own, a home where there is love that surrounds and supports them, come what may. That is what everyone really wants more than anything else. If that home could be guaranteed forever, then that would be the closest thing to heaven on earth. Now that is the gift that Jesus came to give to everyone on the first Christmas day. It was Jesus himself who first explained how his Father chose to adopt us into his family so that we would never be orphans, never ever be alone in this life or the next. What better Christmas present could we ever hope for, even in our wildest dreams?
God was called Father thirteen times in the Old Testament. Each time the word Father was used, it was used as another word for Creator. In other words, God was a Father because He made the world in the first place and everything in it. In the same way that we would say Michelangelo was the father of his statue of David, because he carved it, or that Hippocrates was ‘the father of medicine’ because he was the first to systematise it into a science.
However, when Jesus came he chose another word with which to describe the Fatherhood of God that made him far more than a distant Creator. It was the Aramaic word Abba, which means daddy, or its equivalent in any language. The word father can be ambivalent, it can have many different meanings, but the word daddy can only have one. What is a daddy? Who is a daddy? – He is someone who communicates his very own life to his children. When Jesus began to refer to God in this way, it would have shocked his contemporaries for daring to use such a homely pet name to describe the Almighty Creator before whom they would prostrate themselves. Now Jesus not only used this word daddy (Abba) to show how He relates to God, but to explain how God wants us to relate to him, and through Him to us. That is why, when he taught us the greatest prayer of all, he did not use the words Our Father but the words Our Daddy (Abba).
Our Daddy Who Art in Heaven
It is not just the ancient Jews who were shocked when Jesus told them to call God, daddy, but others too, and that includes us. Most of us would find it difficult if not impossible to pray Our Daddy who art in heaven,” even though that is what Jesus himself tells us to do. This single Aramaic word Abba sums up the very meaning of the gospel message more than any other word used in the New Testament. The very reason Jesus gives for entering our world, was in his own words, “That you may have life and have it ever more fully”, and that life was the life that he received from the Father and which he in his turn has given to us.
This life was the self-same life by which he was conceived in Mary’s womb, that gave him birth on the first Christmas and filled him ever more fully as “he grew in wisdom and understanding with the years“. The experience of his own dad’s life within him made Jesus feel loved It was the source of his unique inner security and it gave him the help and strength he needed to do his will at all times. That is why He wanted everyone to receive and experience all that he had received, so that others may feel the deep inner security that enveloped him, and be given the help and strength to do for others what he has done and still does. That is precisely why he came on the first Christmas, and that is why there can be no better way of preparing for this Christmas than by trying to make a mini retreat, beginning now, to help receive him ever more fully into our hearts in preparation for the most popular and universally loved feast in the Christian calendar.
Enable Fatherly Love to Penetrate
Now this can only happen if we freely choose to create space and time each day before Christmas to enable God’s fatherly love to penetrate us ever more fully until we begin to experience it welling up from within to possess every part of us. Love cannot be forced on anyone and that is true of God’s love too, so if we do not set time aside to open ourselves to receive it, then his love cannot enter into us.
This little retreat then can offer us all the opportunity to come to know and love the Father more and more intimately until we come to know and experience the love that St Paul says, “surpasses the understanding”. When this happens, we will come to realise through our own personal experience that the Father who created us, is in fact, the perfect loving dad that we have always wanted.
Today Christ is Born Again
I am not suggesting that you pack up work or leave home to head for the nearest monastery or retreat centre. I am suggesting something far simpler than that. I am suggesting that you retreat from your normal daily routine during Advent to give ten to fifteen minutes to God in prayer each day. You see, there is no better way that you could prepare for Christmas than by turning and opening yourself to God in prayer. This will gradually enable him to penetrate you with the same Holy Spirit who conceived Jesus in Mary’s womb and then brought him to birth in Bethlehem. Then, on Christmas day, you will be able to say with St Bernard, “Today Christ is born again,” because he will be born again in you on that day and on every day that you choose to receive Him.
Christ Lives in Us and We Live in Him
God’s plan from the very beginning was not just to enter our world by entering into the human body of Jesus on the first Christmas day, but through him, to enter into all who freely choose to receive him on every day. His plan has always been that our human bodies should become the only place where he would make his permanent home here on earth. “Make your home in me and I will make my home in you.” Once in residence. his love will gradually grow to extend to every part of us, unless we prevent it until we can say one day with St Paul, “I live, no it is no longer I who live, but Christ, who lives in me.” When Christ lives in us and we live in him we will be his brothers and sisters with a common Father who chose to adopt us all from the beginning.
Prayer is merely the traditional word used to describe how we set about turning and opening ourselves to receive the Father’s love. It was this love that first gave birth to our brother Jesus whose birthday we can best celebrate this Christmas by doing all we can to allow him to make his permanent home in our hearts.
First published on Catholic Stand