Where are older people in the Christmas story?

4 advent candles

Recently Fr Diarmuid O’ Murchu spoke to many of us from around the country about imagining the Church of the future. One of the major themes he developed was that wise Elders (older people) are key, alongside younger people, to empower the Church of the future.We older people have a place in the Church. Our discernment, experience and gifts are still important to help build up our church communities. Sometimes we feel invisible and the stories of our lives unnoticed and unimportant.
This Christmas piece is offered as encouragement to think about the Christmas story again, believing that older people might be part of the story too! This exploratory way of looking at Scripture is encouraged by the Jesuit spiritual tradition as it can help us to imagine ourselves in the Gospel story and reflect on what we individually see, hear and think about.
We know that not everything that happened in the Gospels can possibly be included. The narratives were written by at least four people who heard accounts from numerous others, some of whom were eye witnesses and others who were not. The oral tradition of passing on events was very strong at the time.So: here are a few thoughts! If this does not help you to reflect on the Nativity narrative that is fine.You may have other ideas and that is one of the joys of being human – that we are all different.
We understand that Elizabeth, Mary’s relative and her husband Zachariah were older people when Elizabeth became pregnant. And I find the Visitation: this powerful encounter between two pregnant women wondering about the future, and their encouragement of each other is a beautiful early part of the story of the Birth of Jesus.
We know that Mary and Joseph were required to journey to Bethlehem for a compulsory census. The paintings of their journey traditionally depict them travelling alone. But isn’t it more likely that a journey on foot or by cart and donkey taking at least four days would have been done in a group, and probably an extended family group? Joseph at some point decided not to abandon the unexpectedly pregnant Mary. We do not know exactly when he fully reconciled with the situation, and decided to accept her and the baby. It is my hope that though family members might have been suspicious about this pregnancy, seeing them as a loving and patient couple on this arduous journey, they too saw the deep faith both had in God and each other. The accommodation available in Bethlehem was not ideal but I hope that some of the older women in the extended family would have supported Mary at the birth of Jesus and that family members would have helped Mary and Joseph then and subsequently. And what about Mary’s parents Anne and Joachim later in Nazareth?
And what of the shepherds? They were traditionally regarded as marginal members of society and the Angels appeared to them first! There would have likely been older shepherds training the younger ones among the group who went to see Jesus! I like to think that those locally in Bethlehem respected them more after that!
We know that the Magi were a different strata of society. They were wise, knowledgeable and wealthy, and likely to be older members of society as they had the knowledge and confidence to undertake a difficult, arduous journey and take gifts to Jesus. Again, they are traditionally depicted as three men, but there may have been younger disciples, and perhaps some women, alongside their servants in their travelling group. They were from other countries and beliefs, (and in a different way outsiders), but the Nativity story is one of the coming together of different, unexpected, diverse groups to witness Christ’s birth.
We understand Jesus was presented in the Temple forty days after birth. Simeon and Anna are both older people waiting for the Messiah. They pick out Jesus, Mary and Joseph from what was likely a queue amidst a lot of other busy, noisy Temple activities. Simeon’s words of recognition and blessing and Anna’s prophecy and thanks are a powerful and prophetic part of the Nativity narrative from older people.
The timings of the arrival of the Magi, the subsequent flight of the Holy Family to escape the massacre of baby boys, and then their return to Nazareth are unclear. But there are a lot of the parts of the story that we do not know about! But it seems to me there will have been many people who formed part of that story to support the Family in those early years that we do not know about, and it is very likely some of those were older people – like us….

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