Fr Rodney Kissinger, S.J.
The birth of our Lord in Bethlehem captivates the human heart more than any mystery of Christianity. The Gospel account unfolds with sublime simplicity. It begins with the census decree from Caesar Augustus. Then the journey of Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem, the lack of room at the Inn, the holy couple taking refuge in a cave on the outskirts of town, the climatic moment of the birth of the savior of the world, the infant wrapped in swaddling bands and lying in a manger, the angelic voices calling the shepherds to come and worship, and the Wise Men following a star. It is the most beautiful story ever told. It is also the most relevant truth ever revealed. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
The story of Christmas does not begin in the Gospel of Luke it begins in the Book of Genesis. Christmas begins with sin. Without sin there is no need for a savior. And Christmas does not end with the coming of the Wise Men it ends with the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. Someone has suggested that in order to understand Christmas we should hang a crucifix on the back wall of the stable. Christmas can only be understood as the introduction to the Paschal Mystery. Bethlehem is the first step on the road to Calvary.
And the great tragedy of Christmas is that so many never get any further than the manger. They love to hear the herald angels sing, but they close their ears to the Sermon on the Mount. They delight in contemplating the beautiful babe in the manger but close their eyes to the bloody body on the cross.
And never has that truth been more relevant than today. We live in a world torn apart by war, violence, injustice, corruption and hate. It is the world of sin, a world without hope. Within ourselves we experience the law of the body warring against the law of the mind. The good I will I do not and the evil I will not that I do. With St. Paul we cry out, “Who will save me from this body doomed to death?” The answer comes from Bethlehem, “O little town of Bethlehem…the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”
Jesus could have come as an adult in the prime of life. That would have spared him the humiliations and the helplessness of infancy and childhood. Instead he chose the helplessness of Bethlehem and the obedience of Nazareth. But even this is not enough he must become obedient to death. He must suffer the terrible agony in the garden, be scourged, spit upon, crowned with thorns and nailed to a cross. Love is not found in words it is found in deeds. The language of love is sacrifice.
God has exhausted the ingenuity of infinite wisdom and compassion to prove his love for us. Only one thing remains, that he be loved in return. Is it difficult to love someone who has loved us first and loved us so much? No, it is not difficult but it is possible. Love is essentially a free act. We are free to reject the love of God. And herein lies the tragedy of Christmas. “He came into this own and his own received him not.”
December 25 is still just another day for millions of people. Fortunately, for many others it will be Christmas. And those who will be celebrating Christmas will be doing so for many different reasons.
Many will be celebrating Christmas for purely economic reasons. Christmas is good business. Others will be celebrating Christmas for social reasons. There will be concerts, dances, parties, shows and movies. For many Christmas is just a good excuse to “Eat, drink and be merry.” And there will be plenty to eat and drink. But millions of others will be having a real Christmas. They will be celebrating the birth of Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of the world.
Only one thing differentiates these different groups of people. And that is faith. Only those who have faith can have a real Christmas. That is the way it was at the first Christmas. Mary had to have faith to believe in the message of the angel. Joseph also had to have faith to believe that Mary was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. The shepherds and the Wise Men had to have faith to believe that this babe laying the manger was truly the Son of God. As it was in the beginning so it is now. Only those with faith can have a real Christmas.
May the Lord fill
your heart this year with loving, trusting faith so that you may have
the most real Christmas you have ever had.
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