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It's time to open our hearts to the Christmas message

PUBLISHED: 09:16 29 November 2017 | UPDATED: 09:16 29 November 2017

Advent gives us a chance to connect with the Christmas message.

Advent gives us a chance to connect with the Christmas message.

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As Christmas approaches, let's open our hearts to its timeless message, says Sister Penelope Martin.

Recently I had the good fortune to see the film The Nativity, first shown on BBC4 as a four-part drama in 2010. This is a moving account not so much of the birth of Jesus, but of how the announcement of His birth and Mary’s pregnancy turned the lives of Mary, Joseph and all concerned completely upside down. Why? Like all of us they had expectations which were indeed met, but in ways that they could not have imagined. Expectation is not quite the same as hope. Hope is more open-minded, whereas expectation has a definite end in sight. The trouble is that we so often think we know precisely how this end will come about and what it will be, that we fail to recognise the goodness in any different outcome.

This was why the Pharisees, and other professional religious of Jesus’ time could not accept Jesus as the Messiah whom they had been expecting since time immemorial. They were convinced that the Lord’s Messiah would be a strong ruler who would deliver them from the hands of their enemies and make their nation as invincible as it had been in the days of King David.

‘Nativity’ shows Joseph, a devout Jew, also trapped by this expectation. Mary was open to whatever God might require of her. Yet, no doubt in reality, and certainly in the film, she was looking forward in happy expectation of conventional married life with her beloved Joseph. God’s plans for her not only confounded these expectations, but were so incomprehensible and so upsetting for Joseph, that despite reassurance in a dream that he should not be afraid to take Mary as his wife, he felt he had been completely let down by her. It is only at the very end of the film that we know that his faith in Mary and in God’s plan for them both has been restored.

Mary and Joseph had to learn and take to heart, just as we have to learn and take to heart, the words spoken in God’s name by the prophet Isaiah so many centuries earlier:

‘My thoughts are not your thoughts,

My ways not your ways - it is the Lord who speaks.

Yes the heavens are as high above the earth, as my ways are above your ways,

My thoughts above your thoughts.’ Isaiah 55

As we journey through Advent, that time of expectation of Our Lord’s certain coming, perhaps we would do well not to let our own expectations of Christmas cramp us, and so become an obstacle to the Lord’s coming into our lives – maybe in unexpected ways.

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