Back when the world was much younger, but still quite a while after the Bible began, our ancestors celebrated Christmas – the Birth of Jesus – each year, when the darkness of winter stopped - and the light began to come back.
That glorious bit of history told through the centuries that their neighbors in Nazareth town told Joseph that they, the neighbors, distant cousins really, could register in Bethlehem for him and Mary, as they had to go to register themselves anyway. A tiny gift to the officials there would be sufficient. It was a kind-hearted gesture. That Joseph would not need fret and worry of having pregnant Mary make that several-days difficult journey to Bethlehem.
Joseph and Mary talked. Maybe it was a good idea. Maybe they didn’t have to travel after all. Pregnant Mary said to Joseph, "We both have to go ourselves, I believe and know from all the old stories and legends passed on through the centuries - prophecies really. I know and am convinced in my heart of hearts that the Messiah, my baby, must be born in Bethlehem. The angel did not tell us where the Child is to be born, but I believe and know we must make the trip. That is the right thing to do. No matter how difficult."
Thus Joseph with Pregnant Mary and the neighbors all traveled together - for safety sake - traveled by mule, by foot, by camel, south from Nazareth to Bethlehem town. A day’s walk outside of Jerusalem. And of course, they believed that their special Angels hid them from sight along the five day journey - kept them invisible from robbers and brigands.
In the old language: " Thus it came to pass” - Jesus was born in Bethlehem in a cove stable – offered to Mary and Joseph in desperation by an apologetic kindly inn keeper and his wife. His wife had told him sternly “How can we possibly turn away a Pregnant woman.” Old Belief is that there was truly no room available, and this was the best they could do. But that the inn keeper’s wife and her friends, plus the women coming with them from Nazareth tried to help Mary best as they could. Helping as women do, with the birth of a child.
Years later, Joseph and Mary re-told of those days: We didn’t know before hand. How could we know? But we were met by Angels singing in High Heavens, Shepherds, their wives and children. And three Wise Men, learned men whose advise was sought by the great of this world. They had traveled far, several months from the East to worship our new born Child. Offered gifts of Frankincense, Gold and Myrrh to Baby Jesus.
The Wise Men said they had long followed this unique Star, brighter than all the rest. A Star that the Sacred Books say: somehow "came down" to light up the cove stable where Jesus was born - to point the way for the Shepherds and later the Magi.
And the women brought food for Mary and Joseph, and clothing for her Infant Baby Jesus against the cold. The Shepherd children wanted to touch Mary’s new born Baby… and Mary let them… but ever so carefully. An old shepherd man, respected in those parts for his sage wisdom told them, “Keep the gold and the gifts of the Wise Men safely. There will be a time soon when you will need them – a time when you have nothing else. “
As Pregnant Mary said to Joseph, “we must go ourselves, no one can go in our place.” And the women cooking and sharing their food, helping to look after Mary and her new born child; and the men standing by, watching, protecting; the children playing; the Magi bring life-saving gifts. And again, thus it is, and thus it must be with each of us.
Later on, much more happened, but that’s for another day.
So it’s Christmas. “From theological mists, true then, true now becoming present reality.” We all, somehow, in our lives, do walk to Bethlehem and we “meet on the street corners of the world.”
fr. joe maier
by Fr. Joe Maier, C.Ss.R.
Published in Bangkok Post, Sunday Spectrum, Dec. 4, 2011
She's never been in a shopping mall, never owned a pair of shoes. She never found them necessary – even when working construction, flip-flops were fine. Granny Pot mentioned once that her own mother who worked as hired help in the rice fields before taking construction jobs in Bangkok never had shoes either. Granny said she'd look funny wearing them. Feet were important, not shoes.
So when her three granddaughters told Granny this year that all first, third and fourth graders must wear shoes to school, the old woman was mystified. The whole business of mastering left foot, right foot alone! She threw up her hands.
But dear goodness, Granny's daughter Ms Oey is another story! She loves shoes – even owns a bright red pair. Granny called her utterly shameless when she saw those. And Ms Oey said, "Mama, I might not be a good girl, but I ain't shameless!"
Ms Oey is Granny's youngest. Her elder sister comes once a year to visit, always bringing Granny a new pair of flip-flops and a bag of that expensive sweet-smelling rice.
Khru Lek, a gifted educator of sea gypsy children, was once addicted to drugs, but her mother's tough love helped her answer her true calling
By Father Joe Maier
Published by Bangkok Post, August 21, Spectrum Section
'Teacher! Miss teacher! Miss teacher! You be teacher!" That's what an old crazy woman who lived under the Three Soldiers Bridge used to shout at Lek. As early as she remembers, every time she walked by that bridge, the old lady would turn those words into a chant, "You be teacher! You hear me? You be teacher!”
And so she is today, but nowhere near the slaughterhouse or the Three Soldiers Bridge.
Now she rides a longtail boat 45 minutes each school day from the city of Ranong to the island of Koh Lao, where she teaches 60 sea gypsy kids in a rickety wooden shack that floods ankle-deep in the high tides. Sometimes the mums have to carry the kids on their backs, wading thigh deep in the water, from their stilt shacks to the rickety school.
Khru Lek is a gifted teacher. Brilliant. Even magical. And the sea gypsy children adore her. Her school children can say with pride, "We learn to count, to read, to write our own names, to dance, to sing, to tell stories, to play new games, to brush our teeth, to fight germs, to say nice words, to make friends."
When Khru Lek teaches the children how to count, they in turn teach her the numbers in their own Moken (ethnic sea gypsy) language.
by Fr. Joe Maier, C.Ss.R.
Published, Bangkok Post Sunday Spectrum, July 10, 2011
We've got the one family picture of baby Puk Pik. That's it - a picture that his dad somehow missed when trashing the rest. Taken eight years ago when he was a baby, maybe six months old, with his real mum holding him and dad standing by. Puk Pik is nine now, an orphan until a few weeks ago.
A slum-dressed lady who said she was his auntie brought him to us, then disappeared into the dawning day.
Now there's proof of his past. We found dad - hiding, avoiding us, whatever you want to call it - and dad had the picture.
Puk Pik's dad had kept the picture hidden almost nine years from his new wife. He knew she'd go into a rage because he promised she was the only one. His first and only. He told our social workers his new wife doesn't know about his HIV either.
You know, I've been chilling out, looking around, walking the streets of Bangkok, the Slums, and the Slaughter House, these last few days, looking for Jesus. Our Scriptures say that He had to die and three days later would rise from the dead.
Our women said they saw Him and He talked nicely to them, didn't scold them, nor the men for being afraid. So for sure, He won't scold you and me, and certainly
not our slum street kids.
When I was seven - a farm kid in South Dakota with mom and baby sister and brother, one pair of bib over-alls and hand-me-down work shoes from a neighbor kid - I got really sick once and a holy old priest told me that I would get well by Easter Time.
And I did, and we all can “get well” by Easter Time. If we want to.
The words of that old priest - "Joey, with Jesus’ guidance you’ll get well by Easter” - changed my life; and now, I, an old priest, 46 years “in the harness,” can tell you my brothers and sisters that all of us “with the help of Jesus, can, should get well” by Easter. Unless, we forget, or don't want to.
True, once a year, we Catholics have these glorious liturgical ceremonies when we retell our Sacred Truths in Ritual and Song. They go back almost two thousand Years. And they're proper and "churchy" but that's a privilege for a few. For we, children of a lesser god, need to say our prayers and to notice our brothers and sisters wherever we meet them. Even just to nod our head, or say hello.