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Thursday, December 25, 2008

O Little Town of Bethlehem

Today, finally, our preparations come to fruition, and we celebrate the birth of Christ; the union of human and Divine in a tiny infant.

For months now, some radio stations have been playing Christmas carols, perhaps we've only had them on in the last week to "help us get into the spirit", or perhaps we finally sing those old hymn at Christmas Eve Mass. The stories these songs tell paint beautiful pictures of serenity, trying to capture the miraculous, to instill a sense of joy, and increase our wonder at God become Man.

On that day, God actually entered our history, and since then, everything has been different. The Messiah has come, just as the prophets told, to save us from our sins.

And now, 2,000 years later, at this time of year we scramble around to buy gifts, make cookies, find just the right dress or shoes or hat and scarf to wear to church or to our various gatherings. We hear all about the "Christmas Spirit" and while trying to find it, we spend a lot of time cursing at other drivers in the overcrowded mall parking lots. Or maybe at our families, who are driving us crazy in their own Christmas frenzy.

Advent is SUPPOSED to remove us from all that silliness to help us focus on what Christmas is REALLY about. But has it worked for you this year?

Finally, Christmas has arrived, and I have to wonder how many people are now pulling their hair out because the day isn't perfect. Maybe the dog got sick on the carpet at 5 am. Maybe the lights on the tree stopped working. Maybe the two-year old got into the gifts and had a heyday.

Maybe the turkey or ham or what-have-you is still frozen and you won't eat exactly on time.

Maybe the cantor at Mass at dawn wasn't very good. Maybe you have a cold.

A thousand things could go "wrong" to disrupt our idea of what Christmas Day should be like. We are told to get caught up in the joy, and yes, we should, but we should NEVER lose sight of the fact that the day of the birth of Christ was not one of luxury, but of hardship none of us can really imagine.

First, although it was a time of political stability, it was also a time of oppression and fear. Joseph and Mary took the 8 or 9-day trek to Bethlehem not to find a good place for a family portrait, but because they HAD to go...and because the reason for that census was to find and kill the King Mary carried in her womb.

When after this terrible journey, which must have been incredibly uncomfortable especially or the very-pregnant Mary, they finally arrive and can't find a place to stay. We know the story; there was no room at the Inn. They could not get out of the cold. Mary, ready to give birth, had nowhere to go.

We commonly see images of a stable, which brings to mind romantic and rustic images of sweet-smelling hay, and a sweet looking ox, maybe a donkey. (From Isaiah: "even the ox and the ass know their master.")

But that's not the real story; Christ wasn't born in a wooden stable. He was born in a cave on the outskirts of Bethlehem. For you see, even before He was born, He was rejected, and had no place to lay His head. The caves of Bethlehem can be observed to this day, and are still used now as they were then; as shelter for the flocks at night. They are filled with animal dung and all sorts of unimaginable filth. They weren't cleaned regularly as would be the stables we know today; thus Our Lord was born into one of the nastiest places on earth.

Consider THAT symbolism and what that means with regard to His Divine mission.

Further, we are told that Christ was placed in a manger; indeed. He was placed where the animals ate. It was filled with camel and sheep spit. But at least it was off the dung-ridden floor.

It seems that although the birth of Jesus is a cause for joy, it is also a cause for reflection, for we must see that the wood of the manger is also the wood of the cross. Christ came into this world to suffer, and did so even from the moment of His birth.

We worry so much about having a perfect Christmas day; but if that is our concern, then we have missed the entire point. Today, as we celebrate with our families, with our parishes, with our friends, we should take some time to reflect upon the historical reality of this day, and be willing to enter into the Mystery of the Incarnation through our own trials and sufferings.

In remembering His great gift, let us also give Him the gift of ourselves, and pray that our own conversions bring us ever closer to to Him, even as we kneel in the dung in a cave of Bethlehem, knowing the sorrow and triumph of the cross still looms.

Let us be joyful in knowing what He endured for our sake, and be willing to carry that Divine Infant in our own purified hearts throughout the Christmas season and beyond.

Glory to God in the highest, and peace to His people on earth!


Anonymous said...

and because the reason for that census was to find and kill the King Mary carried in her womb.

The theory that Herod really called the census is an old one that has fallen out of favor. A census was ordered in several provinces during the reign of Caesar Augustus, often more than once.

Usually, the census was used for tax purposes.

For some examples, see this article about the census. There is another one here that is also good.

Very good point about not worrying about a "perfect Christmas". After all, it's about HIM, not us!

Anonymous said...

Good point, but let's also remember the slaughter of the Holy Innocents.

I do question the sources a bit, although sadly, Protestant biblical scholarship has remained far more faithful than popular "Catholic" scholarship. However, the over-use of historical criticizm is problematic. (It's what Raymond Brown relied upon following Bultmann.)

Joe of St. Thérèse said...

And do we get this in a Christmas Homily, of course not ;)

Anonymous said...

Merry Christmas Adoro!

Barb Szyszkiewicz said...

Thank you for this excellent reflection. Merry CHristmas!

LuisLiviaLuisa said...

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year 2009!

I invite you to listen a special Christmas episode of my podcast “Levántate y Sal a Caminar”

28 minutes of Christmas carols in many languages, meditations and more…(You will be able to listen the carol O little town of Bethlehem...

Jesus loves us.

Luisa Veyan S.
You can listen it in: