December 2, 2022

Reflection / John Shaughnessy

Will we accept and embrace this gift of love?

When I look in the mirror, I see my flaws.

When I look in my heart, my flaws are just as easy to see.

The thing is, I don’t think I’m alone in having these reactions.

Yet while those thoughts may be nearly universal, so is the desire to be accepted, embraced and loved in spite of our flaws.

And when that happens, when we feel that acceptance, that embrace, that love deep in our bones, the world changes for us.

It can come in the love of parents and siblings who may know our flaws better than anyone, who occasionally remind us of our flaws, and who won’t tolerate anyone outside the family who even thinks we have any flaws.

It can come in the love of grandparents, usually the only people on Earth who sincerely consider the possibility that we have no flaws.

It can also come in the love of just one true friend—which is enough if we’ve truly been blessed—who will stand with us in the tough times as well as celebrate with us in the good times.

And it can come in the love of someone who vowed to be our one and only, who once saw us through rose-colored glasses, and who continues to embrace that vow even as their vision has improved dramatically, and they now see our flaws oh so clearly.

All these loves are an extension of the way that God loves us, a love story that is renewed again at this time of year.

An angel appears with an offer of God’s love.

A young woman embraces the offer because of her great love for God.

A man stands by the young woman, even as he has doubts, because his love starts and ends with his concern for her.

It’s a compelling love story at all levels, and what makes it even more powerful is the choice that God made in shaping the story and his plan—that humanity, with all its flaws, would be at the heart of the story; that the purpose of his plan would require the help and participation of flawed humans.

God chooses to send his Son, the Savior of the world, as a baby who will be completely dependent on two humans in a desolate part of the world.

In making that choice, God also sets up a choice that will continue through the ages, even to our current world.

Do we welcome Christ into our lives as Mary and Joseph did, or do we turn him away as the owner of the inn did?

Do we embrace and celebrate Christ in our lives as the shepherds and the three kings did, or do we reject him as Herod did?

Years ago, I shared the story of a man who made beautiful Nativity sets, a skilled artist who made his own defining choice in creating the stables. He added a cross to each one, explaining his choice in this way, “I just thought the cross should be an important part of the Nativity. Without the death and the Resurrection, there wouldn’t be much of a reason for the Christmas story.”

Flash forward to Christ’s death and resurrection, a time when humanity’s flaws were on full display as Christ’s closest friends betrayed and rejected him. Yet in the midst of Christ’s journey to the cross, a stranger—a man with flaws— becomes an essential partner in the scene as he helps Christ.

That sharing of the cross adds another defining dimension to the connection between God and man—as Christ and Simon walked together toward a moment that changed the world forever.

From beginning to end, God made a choice in including humanity, with all its flaws, at the center of his plan for salvation. It all flows from his acceptance of us, his embrace of us, his love for us—his desire to change the world for us.

Now, as in any love story, the choice is ours.

Will we accept and embrace this gift of love?

(John Shaughnessy is assistant editor of The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.)

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