by Sr Helen Spragg, MMM England 20.12.2021
No one wants to be in hospital at Christmas. But, for those that have to be there, the Christmas message may bring some comfort in the midst of their suffering. My hope and prayer is that we can all find comfort knowing that, out of love, God became human and is now our gentle companion who understands our human condition. This is confirmed for me as each day I see the Christmas story reflected in the lives of the patients in the hospital.
One thing that every patient has in common is that they are waiting. They are waiting, often with anxiety or fear and sometimes with hope, for tests, for results, for operations, treatments and procedures as well as for discharge. After Mary had conceived Jesus, she too had to wait and during this anxious time of waiting she goes to help her cousin Elizabeth. Elizabeth and Mary are able, in their need, to provide each other with comfort, support and encouragement. So often I’ve seen patients reaching out to comfort, support and encourage each other during their time in hospital.
When patients have to leave their home to come to hospital, they are displaced and vulnerable. Before Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph had to leave Nazareth and travel to Bethlehem for the census. They seem to have been separated from family and friends on this journey because there is no mention of their family in the gospels. I imagine they worried about their relatives and felt scared and alone, especially when Mary started to experience labour pains. In a similar way, in hospital patients, separated from their loved ones, sometimes worrying about them and are often scared and lonely. This has been particularly difficult during the Covid pandemic. Patients have only been allowed one visitor and in some cases none at all.
When Joseph and Mary arrive in Bethlehem, they can’t find a bed for the night. So many patients, after treatment in hospital, cannot go home, but must look for a place in a nursing home; many others need extra help at home. As patients wait for arrangements to be made for their care many begin to feel a burden, or worse still, unwanted. These feelings must have been shared by Mary as she desperately searched with Joseph for a place where she could give birth to her child. I wonder if there were any local women who came to help her when she was in labour, or were Joseph and herself totally alone?
Jesus is born and his parent’s lives are changed forever together with countless others. In hospital I watch the transformation of lives. For some the change is obvious and physical adjustments need to be made, for others the transformation may be less obvious. For each patient, illness has been an experience of vulnerability, which offers them the opportunity to review their life and to come to appreciate what is really important. There can be a revelation of an inner strength and for many Christians it may reveal to them a different face of Christ.
How blessed we are that God became human! In our suffering we know that God is with us, visiting us in humble but often surprising ways, to claim each moment of life, and inviting a transformation of our lives through love.