“For Unto You is Born This Day”
I remember a couple of years ago watching a movie with my parents, with which you may be familiar, called The Nativity Story. I liked a good many elements in it. The appearance of Gabriel to Mary, for instance where, all of a sudden, he appears and starts talking to her and then he’s gone (and that he didn’t have wings). I also, uncharacteristically, liked the different Christmas carols which provided the soundtrack for the movie. Especially the Carol of the Bells when Joseph is frantically searching for some place to get Mary to because she’s in labor. Although, I thought the literal “Nativity Scene” where the Magi, shepherds and the Holy Family all pose in the stable was so ironically funny that I said, “Now everyone hold still for the camera.”
Going even farther back, I remember watching Charlie Brown Christmas and getting (even to this day) very choked up when I hear Linus stand in the spotlight and quote Luke 2:8 – 14 KJV.
I’ve been contemplating the birth of Christ a lot this year. While the Devil said, “I will not serve”, God Himself became not only the servant (cf John 13:13-15) but also the sacrifice for Mankind. God Himself loved us so very much that He didn’t spare even Himself as the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity to save us.(cf Romans 8:32) C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity says, “It costs God nothing, so far as we know, to create nice things: but to convert rebellious wills cost Him crucifixion.”
Often the question has been posed, if God wanted to redeem mankind and save us, He could have just done so through His Will. Why did He go through such a thing as to become the Second Person of the Trinity? Why did He send us the Christ in the form of a baby? Why not just make Him full grown? Whatever the range of questions, the central point is why did God give us Our Redeemer as a little child? I think that perhaps it was so that no man could ever accuse God of not knowing what it was like to be a suffering creation of the Creator. Christ Himself suffered more than most men. Born in a stable and laid in a feeding trough, refugee into a strange land because He was under the threat of death, and ultimately being put to death on a Cross. A blameless victim. Another astounding revelation I have had is that we most often look at the events of Christ’s Passion and say that he suffered terribly… however, in my revelation I realized that He was God as man. At any given moment during His Passion all he’d have to do is cry out to Heaven and it all would have stopped (cf Matt. 26:53). Christ was not there because He was involved in a situation beyond His control (as normal men would be). Christ was there because His Divine Will chose to be there!
As He chose to be there at the end, so He chose to be there at the beginning as a baby.
The events of the Birth of Jesus never fail to be extraordinary, although we regard them with rote approach these days. Let us look back at the bearer of the New Covenant for a moment.
Mary is often called the New Ark of the Covenant because she bore in her the New Covenant like the Ark in the Old Testament bore the Old Covenant within itself. There are also many scholars who suggest that Mary was a Consecrated Virgin meaning that she had dedicated herself and her being to God thus remaining a virgin forever (this is also written in the work Protevangelium of James, a writing about the childhood of Mary). Don’t let the marriage to Joseph fool you. Consecrated Virgins were often married off to men out of protection for themselves since, in those days women’s roles in life were starkly different than today’s “independent” and unmarried woman’s roles are. This is not considered a doctrine of faith, but it does help clarify Mary’s response to the angel when she asked, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” (Luke 1:34) An engaged woman, as Mary was, would obviously understand that her immanent role as the wife of Joseph would yield children, but only a Consecrated Virgin taken into a man’s house to be protected would be confused as to how having children was possible under such an arrangement. This also underscores why Zachariah’s response of “How can this be possible?” merited an angry response from Gabriel. (Zachariah’s wife might have been past child bearing age, but Zachariah, as high priest, would have been familiar with the story of Abraham and Sarah.) Nevertheless, Mary gives her fiat, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”
Imagine the ridicule, shame, and humiliation that befell not only Mary for being pregnant before her official wedding (engagements at this time were equivocal to being married) but also to Joseph whose reputation was tarnished as well as her parents humiliation that their child would be found carrying a baby! Joseph had the right to denounce her publicly as a whore and adulteress to the community and he had the right to publicly shame her with a very public divorce for having found her with child. Since he was a righteous man, it is commonly considered that he had a duty, under Mosaic Law, to divorce her. However, because proven adultery would have resulted in her being stoned to death, he decided he would quietly divorce her until a miraculous appearance of an angel in a dream came to him to explain what was happening.
Whether Mary went to visit Elizabeth before or after Joseph found out about her condition is unknown since different Synoptic Gospels recount these two events individually. What we do know is that upon Elizabeth hearing the call of Mary experiences the sensation of having the baby in her womb leap. She greets Mary saying, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” She then asks, “And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? (Luke 1:42&43 respectively) If one looks at the first Chapter of Luke, in fact, one will see the majority of the Hail Mary prayer.
We then know that the census forced Joseph, a descendant of David (and some say Mary was as well) to travel to Bethlehem to register. Bethlehem in Arabic is Bayt Laḥm and it means “House of Flesh”. In Hebrew it is Bēṯ Leḥem meaning “House of Bread”. It is no coincidence that Jesus, born in the flesh and become bread for us, came to earth in this town. I imagine the Nativity to have gone something like this and it is mere supposition and imagination which puts this story in my head.
Imagine, if you will, a Super Bowl game. My city just hosted one this past year so it is not hard to imagine. The Super Bowl is going to take place and naturally you have everyone trying to find a place to stay during the course of this event. This is how I imagine Bethlehem looking during the census registration. Every resident had their houses and stables stuffed with family members who’d come into town to be registered. Inns and hostels were overrun with people trying to rest their heads and even the stables for those places were crowded with visitors. Often, in the not so distant past, in America, visitors who were not familiar to the family were offered a place to sleep in the barn. It is not a stretch to imagine people in the far distant past would be given the same option, probably families with much less income than others. Now imagine Mary and Joseph coming into this atmospheric mayhem. Streets so crowded one could barely push through and every door one came to there was a “Sorry, there’s no room here.” Finally, a shopkeeper says, “Yeah, I have some space in one of those caves over there I use as a stable (small caves – or hollows in the hills were often used as stables). You’ll have to share it with other people because we’re so crowded right now, but take it or leave it.” That evening Mary starts to go into labor. (According to the teaching of the Catholic Church Mary, because she was devoid of Original Sin, did not experience labor pains at the birth of Jesus. My belief is that she would have gone into the labor process, as all creatures do, but would not have felt the sensations of a painful birth.) Since they are sharing the cave with other families there would have been women there that knew exactly what to do at the birth of the child. They would have helped Mary through the birth process although they probably marveled at the fact that she felt no pain regardless of her extreme physical exertion to deliver.
That night a group of simple sheep herders were watching over their flocks when they too, for reasons that are unknown, are given the miraculous event of an angelic visitation with a message heralding the birth of the long-awaited Messiah as well as a vision of the choirs of the angels singing the glory of God. Although it is often thought, and much depicted, that the Magi and the shepherds visit Christ while He was in the manger, the Magi, having first visited Herod, met with the Holy Family a bit later. Specifically in the Bible it states that they “[entered into] the house and saw the child with Mary, his mother.” (Matt 2:11) The Magi were astrologers and they looked at the stars and the heavens and derived important events from them. They seem to have been expecting this sign of a visible star that could be seen even during the daytime. Rick Larson has done extensive study on this astronomical anomaly and points out something extremely important. He states that only after the Magi come and ask where the the newborn king of the Jews was did Herod know something was going on. Even his scribes and priests, whom he consults about the fulfillment of this prophesy, did not see what the heavens were showing the Magi. This means that the star wasn’t like one that we see on all those Christmas cards we get. The star was something innocuous to the naked eye, but something that trained astrologers would have recognized immediately as a miraculous anomaly. Often portrayed as being three in number (since three different types of gifts were represented as being brought from them to Jesus), the Magi are mentioned only in Matthew’s account of the birth of Christ. The gifts themselves also to have fantastic significance. The gift of gold was a gift given to a king. The gift of frankincense was a gift given to a priest. The gift of myrrh is an ointment used on the body of one who has died. All represent who Christ was and what He would accomplish here on earth.
At long last lay God as man in the arms of a poor family, hunted and stalked by a threatened ruler, in the food trough of an animal. All to set us free. God demonstrated, by becoming man, humility and meekness itself to set us free. Ultimately, that is the point itself. God loved us so much that He would, from the moment of His birth as Christ Himself, suffer so that we might be set free. He has spared nothing, not even His own Son to save us. The Creator of the Universe has consented to become His creation in order to spare His creation from everlasting death. That should give each one of us significant pause to reflect on the magnanimity of God and His desire to have a relationship with us. Hopefully, it will give you pause to consider these magnificent miracles culminating in the birth of Christ here on earth and what we celebrate this time of year.
Merry Christmas to each and every one of you, and may the blessing of Almighty God and the Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ be with you and remain with you now and always.