I am listening to a murder mystery. As the end approaches everything is coming to light. It turns out that one person with evil intentions entraps someone else who then proceeds to commit many murders because of what happened with the initial action. The one who gets the ball rolling, so to speak, doesn’t intend for the thing to snowball as it does. He, himself, is stunned by all that comes to pass because of what he started.
Listening to this novel reminds me that we don’t always know the consequences of our actions. We may do something small that then influences someone else, and someone else, and more and more comes of it. And we may never know of this result since our lives are not best-selling murder mysteries! In the book, the initial act leads to many murders. But the same thing can happen when thinking about making positive changes in the world. One person may do something good to help another, and then it mushrooms or snowballs. Many movements for social change, for justice, for charity, have begun in this way. Someone did something small.
In a way, the Christmas story is just such a story. While we cannot historically verify much about Jesus’ birth, we do know that he was born in a rural area, not a prominent capital or county seat. We do know that he was born to a family of modest means; poor, actually. We do know that Jesus was part of a minority on the fringe of a large Empire, living in an occupied territory. It’s a small beginning. An initial gesture. No one would expect such a beginning to snowball into a mass movement spawning the largest religion on earth. No one would expect such a humble start to lead to the earth shaking impact that followed and continues to surge ahead today.
This Christmas, we may not get the big gift we are hoping for. We may not be able to afford to go to be with the people who are important to us. We may not end up having the celebration we wanted. We may not see the sweeping tide of peace in the world that we long for. But let us trust that the good we can do, the small acts of compassion, the gestures of justice, the giving of an unexpected gift, the curbing of our carbon footprint, any small thing that is of God, may have vast and sweeping consequences that we never fully appreciate. May that spur us to do the good, to make the effort, for we never know what may come of it. And, if nothing else, it will affect us. It will make us better people, less likely to let evil slip in unsuspected and overwhelm us. Keeping busy with the good leaves less room for the bad to enter.
For reflection: Can you think of something relatively small that has had a big impact? A decision? An invention? A course of action? Think about how to multiply the impact of the good in the world.
Prayer: We tend to associate humble beginnings with ineffectiveness and powerlessness. In fact, in our society, in many ways, “the masses” feel powerless. May the stories of Jesus’ nativity remind us anew of the difference that everyday, common people can make when we are part of fulfilling the hopes and dreams of the Love at the heart of the universe. May we learn from Jesus how to trust God and trust ourselves. Amen.