Mary, Mother of God
Chapter 5 - NATIVITY

Fr Rodney Kissinger, S.J


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The birth of our Lord in Bethlehem (Luke 2: 1-14) 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.

The story does not begin in the Gospel of Luke it begins in the Book of Genesis. It begins with sin. Without sin there is no need for a savior. And it 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 the Nativity we should hang a crucifix on the back wall of the stable. It 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 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.

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. 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.”

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 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. “He came into this own and his own received him not.” There was no room for him at the Inn. How many times has that scene been repeated since that time?

“Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” (Luke 2:15) In order to do this let us turn on the wide screen of our imagination, put on our natural color lens and roll back the calendar to the year one in the little town of Nazareth.

As the picture comes into focus, we are surprised to find the ordinarily peaceful town of Nazareth bristling with excitement. A crowd of muttering, gesticulating Nazarenes have gathered in front of the town hall. A Roman soldier has just tacked an official notice on the door and is riding away.

Our curiosity is aroused and we elbow our way through the crowd to read an official decree from the Roman emperor, Caesar Augustus. A census is to be taken. Each family must register in the town of its family seat. No wonder all the excitement. For these people it was just another act of tyranny by these Roman overlords. Caesar Augustus wants to know how many people he has under his dominion so that he can revise the tax lists and refill his depleted coffers.

As we are standing here listening to the complaints and sympathizing with these people a man carrying a box of tools is coming down the road. He is attracted by the crowd and stops to read the notice. He is a carpenter and his name is Joseph. He is of the house of David and the house of David is in Bethlehem which is some 75 miles away. His first thought is of Mary, his wife, who is even now with child.

He refuses an invitation to join in the heated discussion and hurries home to break the news to Mary. Mary is not disturbed. She knows that this is God’s idea and He will provide. He always does. So without wasting any time in self pity and feeling sorry for themselves Joseph and Mary prepare for the journey. They gather up some of the few possessions they have, Joseph closes the door of their little cottage, helps Mary on the back of a donkey, and they begin the long tedious journey to Bethlehem.

See them as they travel along the narrow, rough, sometimes dusty, sometimes slushy road. Joseph, carrying a staff, is walking in front leading the donkey. Mary, beautiful with the simple beauty of innocence, is sitting on the donkey. Thrown across the back of the animal are two small bags containing practically all they have in this world. They meet with all kinds of weather; biting cold, scorching sun, drenching rain. At night they stop to rest on the side of the road. Finally they arrive in Bethlehem. Joseph wastes no time in finding the village Inn. The Inn keeper is gruff and discourteous, “There is no room.”

They find a cave on the outskirts of the city. There is the climatic moment of the birth of the Savior of the world. See Mary kneeling before the manger. She must be very tired. She has traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem on the jolting back of a donkey. She must be very hungry since she hasn’t had a real meal since they left Nazareth some three days ago. She must be very uncomfortable in this cold, damp cave in the midst of winter. Yet in the midst of all this Mary is the happiest person ever to walk the face of this earth. Here in Bethlehem Mary is teaching us the great paradox of Christianity. It is only when we lose our self in the love and service of Jesus that we find happiness.



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