Every Christmas is a little different, and my priest today made note that most likely, the story of Christmas in Luke’s gospel is invented. I’ll forgive Luke because he wrote one of the most beautiful pieces of prose ever, and even though I’m Catholic, the King James version is the best. Every year, I watch the Charlie Brown Christmas special just to hear Linus speak the words:
“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them; and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace, good will toward men.
“That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”
Theologically, Luke’s gospel is quite interesting. It takes place during the Roman census and involves a lot of fleeing, which seems very fine to us now, but was practically heresy at the time, for the Messiah was hoped to be a military king, a king of lands and armies, who would throw off the shackles of Rome.
But instead, he is a babe born to a carpenter and his wife. There is no room at the inn, so he is born in a barn. Luke is telling us that Jesus was not the champion of Israel to challenge the Roman oppression. He was not a king of the world, but a king of the heavens. He was out of place, and we can only find him if we look for him and search, and in the most bizarre of places sometimes.
And so, I find it a little simplistic when I see people praying to God for health or money or safety or happiness or luck or winning a game or whatever. In reality, I think that when we suffer, or we are abused or tortured or neglected or injured, we should be thankful. How lucky we are to be so tested. I have long believed that the trials and suffering of our lives are to test our spirit, and it is like gold in a crucible: in the fire we are purified. We should be thankful to suffer so.
I never pray for good fortune or happy things, or even good health. I do pray for my patients, but I don’t pray for them to get better. I don’t even pray that I do the right interventions or treatments. I simply pray that I may have the strength to do God’s work, whatever that may be. Because I can’t cure anyone, so let me at least do what I can, and let God do the rest. Penicillin can only do so much. There has to be something else.