A few weeks ago a little boy called Finn came into the world. It was late on a Sunday evening in an Irish hospital. His birth had been anticipated, all necessary preparations had been made and the best pre-natal care provided. Nothing, in one sense, could have been more ordinary. Yet, when he arrived, stepping quietly into the world, he was greeted with love, care and immense, overflowing joy. In that moment, the seemingly ordinary had all the character of a miracle.
This thought places us before the young Mary, or Miriam as she would have been called, the Miriam who gave birth to Jesus in Bethlehem. She is wonderfully present in the Gospel story from Luke in this the Fourth Week of Advent.
She does something quite ordinary, recognisable even to us across the centuries: she visits her cousin who is about to give birth to the young John the Baptist. In doing this, she steps out of the anonymity of her life to enter the great history of the world.
What the Gospel describes is that moment when, in the words of Colm McCann, “the great world spins”, as both young women realise that God has intervened dramatically in their lives without either of them having any clear idea what it all means.
Young Finn’s arrival was greeted with joy and celebration. So, too, the two young women in the little tiny first century village lost among the dusty hills of Judaea, rejoiced at the birth of John the Baptist. They both recognised that the world had spun on its axis and a miracle had occurred. Such is the joy at the birth of a child.
Finn may go on to live an extraordinary life. He will, if our health statistics hold up, live well into the next century, . Who knows what wonders he will witness in his lifetime? Who knows what new possibilities will be open to him? However all this may turn out his parents already know that his extraordinary gift to the world will be clothed in the garments of the ordinary. Only those nearest to him may recognise this daily miracle.
What is celebrated in Mary’s Magnificat in this Fourth Week of Advent is the miracle of the ordinary. As Christians we believe that God’s presence in our lives always appears in the miracle of the ordinary.
The path we take in life, however modest it may be, will have an impact on the future lives of others, maybe even hundreds of others. It often begins with something as seemingly insignificant as a journey we take, a person we meet, a book we read or a website we visit.
It is in that ordinary moment that the larger horizon of our lives opens up.
On a Friday evening, on the 13th of November, this year the bombs went off in Paris. One of the victims was a young woman, the mother of a little boy, who was born 17 months ago. She died in the bombing. Her husband, Antoine Leiris wrote this moving message addressed to the unknown bombers who planted the bomb at the Balaclava Restaurant. His letter is a testimony to fearless love and to the enduring witness to truth and humanity that the life of a child represents. The commitment to bring a child into this troubled world and to nurture a child to freedom and to full humanity is one of the noblest things of which our species is capable. This is what we celebrate this Christmas, especially this Christmas.
Here are Antoine Leiris’ words to the Paris bombers:
We are just two, my son and I, but we are stronger than all the armies in the world. I don’t have any more time to devote to you. I have to join Melvill who is waking up from his nap. He is 17 months old. He will eat his meals as usual, and then we are going to play as usual, and for his whole life this little boy will threaten you by being happy and free. Because, no, you will not have his hatred either.