He Dwells Among Us

St. Ignatius Loyola’s classic text, The Spiritual Exercises, leads a person by a series of imaginative meditations through the life of Christ. And Ignatius asks the retreatant to begin before the earthly life of Jesus even began.

In one of the loveliest of his meditations, St. Ignatius asks us to imagine the Holy Trinity in heaven. Looking down, they gaze upon all of humanity and see men and women greatly diverse in dress and behavior: “some white and others black, some at peace and others at war, some weeping and others laughing, some healthy and others sick, some being born and others dying....”


In their compassion, they decide that the second person of the Trinity should become human. “And thus when the fullness of time had come, they send the Angel Gabriel to Our Lady,” writes Ignatius. Christmas marks the time when God, out of compassion, became human, or, as the Gospel of John has it, “pitched his tent among us.”

Today the Holy Trinity watches over a world that would be virtually unrecognizable to the men and women in first-century Palestine. Just in the past decade, technological advances have enabled millions, at least in the West, to enjoy better health, increased educational opportunities and other unforeseen advantages. The place of women and minorities continues to improve in our country: the presence of two women and an African-American man in the November presidential election contests is one sign of progress in this regard.

But the Holy Trinity also sees a world surprisingly similar to that of first-century Palestine, a world with “some weeping.” Jesus was born into a violent time. Today terrorism, its complex roots maddeningly confusing, frightens millions, from India to Indianapolis. Likewise, the poor in Jesus’ day were, as today, powerless, marginalized and disenfranchised. Even St. Joseph was not exempt from financial woes. Like Palestinian peasant farmers, as the Rev. John Meier, a noted Scripture scholar, points out, he led a “precarious existence, sometimes at subsistence level.” How similar this is to our world this Christmas, when the poor are still marginalized and millions of middle-class Americans fear for their future in the wake of the frightening collapse of the financial markets.

Into such a place came Jesus: a world riven with differences between rich and poor, facing the threat of violence and, like that world, hoping for salvation. To enter this world, Jesus was born into the Holy Family, each of whose members offers a distinctive lesson for believers during Christmas—especially for those facing hard times, financial or otherwise.

Again we turn to Joseph, who is often relegated to second-class status in the Nativity scenes. A “righteous” man, as the Gospel of Matthew has it, Joseph shoulders the confusing task God has given him. Not only is he asked to accept the strange message from an angel about the miraculous circumstances of his wife’s pregnancy; he is also charged, later, to guard his family in their perilous trip to Egypt. This would have been a particularly hard road for a Jewish family—Egypt lies in the wrong direction. Joseph trustingly accepts God’s upending of his expectations.

Mary’s great yes to God offers not only a model for women, but for any disciple. Indeed, Mary’s encounter with the angel Gabriel offers a model of discipleship for those under duress. When God invites Mary to accept a strange future, she initially hesitates and, like any believer, voices her honest emotions. “How can this be?” she asks in the Gospel of Luke. In reply, the angel points to the example of her cousin, Elizabeth, in essence saying, “Look what God has already done.” How often this happens in our own lives. When doubtful, we are invited to look backward, to see God’s hand more clearly and magnify our trust. But even after Mary’s Fiat, her story provides a lesson. “Then the angel left her.” Then comes the part that we know well: faith.

Mary’s son came, as one hymn has it, “not as a monarch, but a child.” The Word of God chose to dwell among us in that most fragile of human states—as a newborn. When the Magi arrived, they may have wondered, “This little child is the king?” Entering into perilous situations and accepting the need to be protected, to be cared for and to be nurtured by others is another lesson that God offers us at Christmas. “The secret of life,” said Blessed John XXIII, “is to let oneself be carried to God.”

The Holy Trinity chose “in the fullness of time” to enter into the complicated world of first-century Palestine. Christ, in his Spirit and in the church, continues to dwell in our lives. Christians are also called to insert themselves into what is becoming a more complicated world. For ways to do this, we need look no farther than the crèche, to the example of the Holy Family.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
10 years 1 month ago
Dear All, many thanks for the beautifully written article; I found it quite inspiring for advent and would wish you all a very happy and holy Christmas and peaceful New Year. Annie Clark from Australia.
10 years 1 month ago
I was inspired by the article, "He Dwells Among Us." The line that summarized the whole drama discussed was the quote by Blessed John XXIII, "The secret of life is to let oneself be carried to God." I would like to publish part of the article in our church bulletin. How can I get permission to do this? Thank you for your fine magazine. Michelle Black
Bruce Snowden
10 years 1 month ago
The editorial, "He Dwells Among Us" by Drew Christiansen, S.J. is like a new Star in Bethlehem's sky, or better said,like the Orininal One (thanks Fr. Christiansen!) pointing the way for modern wise men and women, to the one who "pitched his tent among us," Jesus! Through the eyes of Faith the Christmas Star shines in the darkness above the Manger, encouraging imitation, especially as co-partners with Jesus, Mary and Joseph, in association with marginalized people, a reality enfleshed in The Christmas story. But to "get it" Faith in God is necessary. The challenge however, is, according to Muslim theologian Abu Hamid al-Ghazzali, Faith in God is a "wager" as we cannot on our own know for sure that God exists. Pascal too, in his "Pensees" admits that Faith in God is a "gamble" but a well-founded "gamble" as there is much more evidence that God exists, that there is evidence that God does not exist. The Gospel too, seems to focus on the "wager"/"gamble" approach, as in the Centurion's honest admission, "I do believe, help my unbelief!" St. Paul calls Faith "evidence of things not seen" and we live by that belief. But as everyone who tries to live by Faith knows, Faith is a dark light, but fortunately a light nonetheless! This allows the definitive outline of God to be perceived, even if he appears as a helpless Infant wrapped in swaddles of cloth and snuggled in an animal-feeder euphemistically called a "manger" revealing God as the one of Whom Scripture says, "Light and darkness are the same!" Truly, then, as Drew Christiansen points out, he Who dwells among us makes the darkness of Faith bright and puts the "Merry" into Christmas! Jesus Christ, you are the Light of the World!
Bruce Snowden
10 years 1 month ago
The editorial, "He Dwells Among Us" is like a new Bethlehem Star, or better, just like the Original One! It enfleshes Christmas, making tangible Christmas's "blessed trinity" Jesus, Mary, Joseph, through their identification with marginalized people, thereby allowing a little light to seep through the rocky cracks of the Christmas cave through Faith in the One who, "pitched his tent among us!" But Faith, Faith in God, although reasonable is, according to the Muslim theologian Abu Hamid al-Ghazzali a "wager" and according to Pascal in his "Pensees" a "gamble." But Pascal says Faith in God is well founded, as there is more evidence that God exists than evidence that God does not exist. The Gospel too, seems to focus on the "wager"/"gamble" concept in the honest admission of the Centurion, "I do believe, help my unbelief!" By being born in a cave, the God/Man, Jesus, became a "Cave Man"thus making himself fully one with marginalized humanity, all humanity, all the way back to primordial times! "He Dwells Among Us" shows that Christmas (Christianity) is not for whimps, or maybe it's the perfect antidote for the whimpish, in that, the Infant wrapped in cloth and wimpering in an animal feeder we nicely called a "manger" brings hope and courage, helping the fainthearted to overcome despair and fear, making us realize that we are responsible for the well-being of our sisters and brothers everywhere. Of course this is not easy, for as everyone who tries to live by Faith in God knows, Faith is a dark light sometimes casting frightening shadows against the rugged walls of life, but a light nonetheless. This does allows the definitive outline of he who dwells among us, to be perceived. This indeed makes Christmas merry. Truly a great editorial!
Bruce Snowden
10 years 1 month ago
Dear On Line Editor, Twice I've posted a comment on "He Dwells Among Us"and twice the piece was sent but myname remained behind. Wii thia prevent my commentfrom being reviewed? Bruce Snowden ixtus333@aol.com


The latest from america

In cities across the country, local activists marched in support of a progressive agenda centered on economic justice, racial justice and immigrant rights.
Brandon SanchezJanuary 20, 2019
Pope Francis has suppressed the Ecclesia Dei Commission, a significant decision with consequences for the Holy See’s relations with the priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X.
Gerard O’ConnellJanuary 19, 2019
Photo: IMDB
A new Netflix miniseries brings out the story’s aspects of adventure and conflict, with occasionally pulse-pounding results.
Rob Weinert-KendtJanuary 19, 2019
Protestors march to support a U.N. anti-corruption commission in Guatemala City on Jan. 6. Photo by Jackie McVicar.
“What they are doing not only puts Guatemala at risk but the entire region. Bit by bit, for more than a year, they have been trying to divide us. The elections are at risk. We are six months away.”
Jackie McVicarJanuary 18, 2019