Tonight will be a cold one in SoHo! So as we prepare ourselves mentally and spiritually for the trials ahead, please focus on our theme for this evening, which is “Bethlehem”.
“In those days, a decree went out from Caeser Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was govenor of Syria. So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town. And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them at the inn.” Luke 2:1-7
As Christmas nears, many of us have already set up our idyllic manger scenes, complete with cozy looking straw, shepards, kings, and angels all present to adore the Christ child. With this imagery, it is sometimes difficult to conjure just how tough the journey to and from Bethlehem was. Mary was several months pregnant, by a mysterious cause. The weather was cold. Soldiers were looking for the Christ child, with orders to kill on sight. The roads were full of travellers seeking to register for the census, and robbers seeking to prey on them. No room at the inns, Joseph had to do the best he could to make Mary and young Jesus comfortable, while at the same time following orders from Caeser but more importantly from the angels appearing regularly in his dreams. Bethlehem was tough, far more challenging than whatever we will face tonight. Let’s draw inspiration from the Holy Family’s trip to Bethlehem, and specifically focus on three points:
1. Love. Enduring hardships and sufferings is never easy. A common method many of us employ for doing so is the “white knuckle method”: grit your teeth, tough it out. For missions, this can sometimes work, though by the time you finally find the soul out in SoHo that you’ve been called to find tonight, the odds are high that you will be so miserable you won’t have a successful encounter. Instead, think about the pure, self-sacrificing love of Joseph, who willingly gave up a comfortable life in Nazareth to follow the crazy-sounding request of an angel that appeared to him in a dream. He could not of taken this on without a heart overfilling with love of Gid, love of Mary, and love of Jesus. Tonight, we do it for love.
2. Perseverance. With wind chills promised in the teens, each of us will be tempted to “take a break”, abandoning our post for a short time, a long time, or even permanently– it’s a slippery slope. Don’t. Instead, persevere. In my many years of doing this, I have become convinced that each of us, on any given evening, is there for perhaps one lost soul, whom we have the unique background and personality to attract back to Jesus. But to find our soul, we need first and foremost to be there when he or she comes by. The Devil knows this too, and too frequently, his temptations to “take a break” come just as our soul is heading towards us. So tonight, when the going gets tough, persevere as Mary and Joseph did. Faithfully follow the voice of the angel inside you, to Bethlehem.
3. Joy. As tough as conditions in Bethlehem were, why is Christmas today an almost universal symbol of Joy? Of course, for what it represents– the coming of our Savior. As we learned yesterday in the reading from Paul’s letter to the Phillipians, “Rejoice in the Lord always! Rejoice!… The lord is near.” (Ph 4:4-5) Mary and Joseph had the confident faith to know this, and that knowledge, that confidence, is what gave them the deep, confident Joy that emanated from them through all trials and difficulties. This is the “Joy of the Gospel” that Pope Francis is calling on us to witness. This is the Christian Joy that the lost souls in SoHo will see tonight, emanating confidently from us, through the cold and wind and the dark night. This is the Joy of Bethlehem. This the joy that will cause the people we meet tonight to think, “Give me some of that!”
We will see you tonight on Prince and Mott.