Monday, December 25, 2017
The Birth of Jesus
1. Opening prayer
Spirit of truth, sent by Jesus to guide us to the whole truth, enlighten our minds so that we may understand the Scriptures. You who overshadowed Mary and made her fruitful ground where the Word of God could germinate, purify our hearts from all obstacles to the Word. Help us to learn like her to listen with good and pure hearts to the Word that God speaks to us in life and in Scripture, so that we may observe the Word and produce good fruit through our perseverance.
a) The context:
The Gospel passage presented to us today is part of the so-called childhood Gospel of Luke and covers the first two chapters of the third Gospel. It is a gospel of childhood. Therefore, the main focus of the author is not one of information, of giving us historical details of the birth of Jesus, rather of announcing the Good News of the birth of the promised Messiah. The child Jesus is already seen as the Lord as proclaimed in the apostolic preaching.
Like the first two chapters of the Acts of the Apostles are about the transition from the time of Jesus to the time of the Church, so also the first two chapters of the Gospel of Luke are about the transition from the Old to the New Testament. There are constant quotations and allusions to the Old Testament. The people, such as Zachary and Elisabeth, Simeon and Anna, Joseph and especially Mary, represent the spirituality of the poor of the Lord that characterise the final period of the Old Testament. All, and particularly Mary, rejoice at the coming of the salvation they had so longed for.
Luke divides his childhood Gospel into seven scenes: the proclamation of John the Baptist’s birth (1:5-25), the proclamation of Jesus’ birth (1:26-38), Mary’s visit to Elisabeth (1:39-56), the birth of John the Baptist (1:57-80), the birth of Jesus (2:1-21), the presentation of Jesus at the temple (2:22-40), and Jesus among the doctors in the temple (2:41-52). Many scholars believe that Luke meant to draw a parallel between Jesus and John the Baptist in order to show Jesus’ superiority over John, the last of the prophets. With the birth of Jesus begin the new times towards which the Old Testament yearned.
b) The text:
Now it happened that at this time Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be made of the whole inhabited world. This census - the first - took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria, and everyone went to be registered, each to his own town. So Joseph set out from the town of Nazareth in Galilee for Judea, to David's town called Bethlehem, since he was of David's House and line, in order to be registered together with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. Now it happened that, while they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to a son, her first-born. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the living-space.
In the countryside close by there were shepherds out in the fields keeping guard over their sheep during the watches of the night. An angel of the Lord stood over them and the glory of the Lord shone round them. They were terrified, but the angel said, 'Do not be afraid. Look, I bring you news of great joy, a joy to be shared by the whole people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. And here is a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.' And all at once with the angel there was a great throng of the hosts of heaven, praising God with the words: Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace for those he favours. Now it happened that when the angels had gone from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, 'Let us go to Bethlehem and see this event which the Lord has made known to us.' So they hurried away and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. When they saw the child they repeated what they had been told about him, and everyone who heard it was astonished at what the shepherds said to them. As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds went back glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as they had been told.
3. A moment of prayerful silence
so that the Word of God may penetrate and enlighten our life.
4. Some questions
to help us in our personal reflection.
a) Is there room for Jesus in my life?
b) What signs of his presence is God offering me?
c) How do I react to these sign?
d) Jesus was born to bring joy and peace. How far do these gifts characterise my life?
e) Am I a bearer of joy and peace to others?
5. A key to the reading
for those who wish go deeper into the text.
- "There was no room for them"
Jesus is born in extreme poverty. It is not just a matter of the material destitution of his family. It is much more than this. He is born far from the village where his parents live, far from the love of relatives and friends, far from the comfort of the paternal home, even though poor. He is born among strangers who do not care for him and only offer a manger for his birth.
We see here the great mystery of the incarnation. Paul will say, "he was rich, but he became poor for your sake, to make you rich out of his poverty" (2 Cor 8:9). The prologue of John’s Gospel affirms that although it is through him that the world came to be, Jesus, the Word made flesh, "he came to his own domain, and his own people did not accept him" (Jn 1:11). It is this drama that marks the whole of Jesus’ life, coming to its culmination in the absolute rejection at the proceedings before Pilate (see Jn 18:28-19:16). In the final analysis, it is the drama of God who reveals himself and gives himself constantly to humanity and is so often rejected.
However, it must be said that it was not easy for his contemporaries to recognise Jesus. It is never easy for anyone, not even today, to recognise him for what he really is. Only God’s revelation can unveil his mystery (see for example Jn 5:37; 6:45). In the story of his birth, the aim of the angelic message is precisely that of revealing his mystery.
In fact, our text is made up of three parts. In vv. 1-7 we have the fact of the birth of Jesus in a clear context. It is the birth of a boy like so many other boys. Verses 8-14 tell us about the message by an angel and the vision of angels who sing. It is God’s revelation (see v.15) that allows us to discover in the "sign" of "a child wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger" (v. 12) "Christ the Lord" (v.11). In the last part (vv. 15-20), we come across various reactions to the revelation of the mystery. When the sign that God offers is received with humility, it marks the beginning of a journey of faith towards him who reveals himself.
- How to decipher the sign and welcome Jesus
Our text presents three reactions to the mystery of Jesus.
First there are the shepherds. They are characterised by several verbs of expectation/seeking and discovery: "(they) watch… during the night" (v. 8); "let us go and see…" (v. 15); "they hurried away and found…" (v.16). The shepherds were open to the revelation of the mystery. They welcomed it in simplicity and believed it (see vv. 15 and 20) and they became witnesses of that which was revealed to them (see v. 17). Then there are "those who heard" what the shepherds had to say about Jesus (v. 16). They are amazed, unable to see the real meaning of the event that took place among them. Finally there is the report on Mary. The evangelist wants to contrast her reaction to that of "those who heard". In fact, he introduces her with the words "as for Mary" (v. 19). Like them, Mary has not heard the message of the angel and has not seen the angelic choir, but has only heard the witness of the shepherds. Yet she accepts it. Certainly, she had an angelic message addressed to her alone at the beginning of this whole episode (1:26-38). The angel had spoken of a son who was to be born from her as the Son of the Most High who was to rule forever (see 1:32 and 35). But recent happenings, the birth under such circumstances, could have put doubts to these words. Now the shepherds come and again say great things about her son. Mary keeps everything in her heart, the words of the angel, the words of the shepherds, the events taking place and seeks to put them together in order to understand who is this son whom God has given her, what is his mission and what is her part in all this. Mary is a contemplative woman who keeps her eyes and ears open so as not to miss anything. She, then, keeps and meditates all in the silence of her contemplative heart. Mary is the attentive Virgin, capable of receiving the word that God speaks to her in the daily events of her life. Only they who wish to seek like the shepherds and who have the contemplative heart of Mary can decipher the signs of the presence and action of God in their lives and to welcome Jesus in the home of their being.
6. Psalm 98
O sing to the Lord a new song,
for he has done marvelous things!
His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him victory.
The Lord has made known his victory,
he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations.
He has remembered his steadfast love
and faithfulness to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.
Make a joyful noise to the Lord,
all the earth;
break forth into joyous song and sing praises!
Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre,
with the lyre and the sound of melody!
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord!
Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
the world and those who dwell in it!
Let the floods clap their hands;
let the hills sing for joy together
before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
and the peoples with equity.
7. Final Prayer
O Little Child! My only treasure, I give myself totally to your divine fancies. I have no other joy than to make you smile. Brand me with your grace and your childlike virtues, so that on my birthday into heaven the angels and saints may recognise them in your little spouse.
(St. Therese of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face, prayer n.14)