Readings: Isaiah 9:1-6 Titus 2:11-14 Luke 2:1-14
Christmas is the day we celebrate the birth of Jesus and is a feast of light, joy and liberation. Originally, the Romans celebrated a feast on this day, called the festum solis invicti, the festival of the unconquered sun. The winter season has just passed and we are now moving into longer days, with more light and the resurgence of life in the soil. One can almost see Nature slowly waking up after its long winter hibernation. The trees that had shed their leaves, which looked dead with their bare branches but in a matter of weeks will be decked in all their leafy glory. The whole atmosphere is also suffused with joy, the joy of the angels and of the shepherds as they hasten to Bethlehem to find the new-born child. Joy is a theme which goes right through Luke’s gospel. It is one of the characteristics of the true Christian. We rejoice and are happy because Jesus has brought us the liberation. He is, after all, the King of Kings and the Prince of Peace. He has not come to exert power but to give strength especially to the poor and the weak.
Christmas is a feast of joy, love and peace. It is a feast of joy to celebrate the greatest moment in history. On this day we meet each other and greet each other with the festal wishes, exchange cards and sweets. We share with each other this happy moment that even enemies speak to each other and those who are fighting will call it a day of truce. They cannot fight on a Christmas day for sure. They will continue the next day. It is a joy of love when God showed his love for us by sending his own beloved son who will continue to live with us forever. This is the ultimate form of God’s love. It is a day of peace and this is what was proclaimed by the angels at birth of Jesus: peace to those of good will. Jesus the God of peace will give his peace for us and this peace will last forever.
The readings resonate with the theme of light and the baby in the manger is the Light of the World. Light surrounds the shepherds as the angels sing their praises of God: “Glory to God in the highest and, on earth, peace to all who are favoured by God.” Today’s Gospel very carefully sets the tone both for the personal lifestyle of Jesus and of the purpose for which he has come. There is something unforeseen, empty, hard and painful. There was the census which made them to go to a strange land. There is the crowded place and that made them struggle with their might to look for a quiet place. They found hardly any help from any one and every one was worried about his or her won anxiety and had no time for them. The places were all full and they had no room for the. All this to satisfy the egoism of the emperor who wanted to see how great and powerful he is. Yet tonight, we are surrounded by the Divine light of love that is intended to unite us all closer and closer as one within the invisible Mystical Body of Christ.
The Gospel of today gives us the narrative about the birth of Jesus. He was born in Bethlehem in a manger or a cave because there was no room for them in the inn. The creator of the universe could not find a place for his own son on earth. His warmth was from the animals; his visitors were the shepherds, the illiterate the reject of the society who every one looked at with scant respect. Later it was the foreigners, pagans who came to visit and offer him the gifts fit for the king and a priest. The angels become the messengers. There was no grandeur, no pomp or salute of guns for the arrival of a king. Instead there is the total silence and quietness at his arrival. There was no room for them in the inn and hence Mary keeps him in the cave: she wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in the manger. In the inns of Bethlehem there was no place for him. They were all occupied. They choose to reject, the saviour of the world though unknowingly. Yet the whole atmosphere is suffused with joy, the joy of the angels and of the shepherds as they hasten to Bethlehem to find the new-born child. Joy is a theme which goes right through Luke’s gospel. It is one of the characteristics of the true Christian.
We heard in the Gospel earlier, the angel said to the shepherds, “I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” Indeed, it was a great joy then and it is a great joy today. Had Jesus not come, because our beings have been stained by the original sin of Adam, at the end of our earthly lives, we would all experience a spiritual death. For eternity, we would be deprived of the beatific vision of God in our presence. But now, through our faith in Jesus as our Messiah and the Sacrament of Baptism, we receive the heavenly gifts of the new birth, the indwelling Holy Spirit and inheritance into the Body of Christ. None of these gifts would have been possible had Jesus not come. Thank you Jesus for coming into our lives. We adore you now and forever. The new-born Child is the Prince of Peace but, paradoxically, his message of love and justice for all is a source of violence and death on the part of those who reject him. The echo of that is already present in the Christmas story. And so, many priests, religious and lay leaders were killed died as well as thousands of innocent farmers and their families and many more suffering persecution because of Jesus the new born babe.
Let us now look into our lives and see what is Christmas for us. Christmas is not just for tonight. It is for the whole year. It is not just about turkey, ham and plum pudding. It is not just about fancy parties in posh hotels. It is not just about imbibing large amounts of alcohol in the pubs and discos downtown. It is about celebrating the coming of God among the poor and homeless and the disadvantaged, with a message of hope and liberation for the disadvantaged of our world. It is about our responsibility to be part of that liberating process. It is about working to remove the shameful blot of poverty, discrimination and exploitation that is the lot of too many in our environment of prosperity. While there is plenty in the celebration in the form of gifts, clothes and food and beverages, there is emptiness poverty and loneliness in many without at times a good and decent meal. Hence when we celebrate our Christmas let us not forget what exactly we are celebrating and that the message of Christmas extends well beyond the festivities. Let it be once again a stimulus to remind us just what our being Christians means for us and for those around us.
Reflecting upon the mystery of the birth of Baby Jesus, during the First Reading we heard that Jesus would be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. These titles of honour echo the fullness of the Holy Trinity. Indeed, in Jesus, the fullness of God was pleased to dwell bodily. In baby Jesus coexisted the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. As Jesus said to Philip, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” The birth of Jesus holds many mysteries regarding the incarnation of God, Divine love, mercy, forgiveness, so much spiritual knowledge and understanding that books and books have been written about such.
What is the spirit of Christmas for us? It is to make room for all who are sad, empty in their lives. It was said that there was a short Christmas play put up by fourth grade students. There was a boy in the play who was larger in size, yet kind at heart and wanted to be shepherd and carry the sheep on his shoulder; but because of his size, the teacher made him inn keeper to drive out Mary and Joseph. As the play went on Joseph pleaded the inn keeper loudly told them there is no room and they must leave. He started moving away. Then Mary started crying and slowly the boy turned and instead of moving away angrily as in the play, he came back to the surprise of all, said softly to Mary and Joseph, look there is no room here in the inn but you can take my room and have all the privacy you need. True the play went off the track but the showed the spirit of Christmas that there is room for every one if we choose to give it. The poor, lame, blind, lepers and all will find a room in the babe of Bethlehem. The presence of Jesus gave room for everyone. This is because she wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in the manger because there was no room for them and this way Jesus found room for all.
As we continue to worship Baby Jesus during the celebration of the Holy Mass, let us remember that “a child has been born for us.” Jesus came for you. He wants you. His eternal Kingdom will not be complete unless you are part of it. As such, persist in your blessed hope and never take your eyes off Jesus.
Fr Eugene Lobo SJ, Rome