I wish all of you a happy and holy Christmas. Christmas is full of family, traditions, gatherings, and festive celebrations, the giving of gifts, the sharing of the traditional meal with family recipes. For children, there is Santa; excitement, the opening of gifts, the cries of joy when discovering what is under the Christmas tree.
As we celebrate here in Church tonight, there is no peace in the land of the birth of Our Savior. The scenes and news from the Holy Land is not peaceful, but tragic and painful to hear – the sounds of sirens, rockets, and bombs; men, women and children scrambling for shelter. Tonight, in Bethlehem there are no pilgrims visiting and praying at the site of the birth of Jesus.
Christmas can be a challenging time for some families too. The loss of loved ones through murder, accidents, sickness, or separation leaves family members disheartened at their absence. Several experience broken relationships and unkept promises. The disappointments and difficulties of life become more apparent; especially when we are ‘supposed’ to be happy.
Tonight (today) we come to Church to hear the Christmas carols. We come to adore and visit the crib to see the baby Jesus peacefully lying in the manger, while Mary and Joseph look down on Jesus. We hear the Gospel tell of the birth of Jesus. The whole scene is peaceful and calm, but where are our hearts? Do we really understand this peace and calm?
Mary, a young girl to whom an angel appeared and told her she would conceive and bear a son, but she was not married. Nervous and afraid Mary listened to the message of the angel. Despite her fear and anxiety, she simply responded by surrendering to God “let it be done unto me according to your word.” Joseph, a carpenter, and a man of faith is engaged to Mary. When he discovers that Mary is pregnant, he quietly decides to divorce her. God speaks to Joseph in a dream, “Joseph, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife.” Joseph and Mary’s hearts were not full of peace – there were many unanswered questions.
The Emperor Caesar Augustus demands a census must be taken. Joseph must take his pregnant wife to Bethlehem. This journey would take several days. Mary could not walk as her pregnancy would make it too difficult. Joseph places Mary on the donkey for the long and rough journey to Bethlehem. When Mary and Joseph arrive in Bethlehem there is no room for them to stay. The only place Joseph could find is a stable. Imagine the disappointment of Joseph that Mary, his pregnant wife, has no good place to stay or the embarrassment of Mary when she gives birth to her child in a stable. The scene seems beautiful and peaceful. Mary, exhausted from the long journey and giving birth in a stable, not the cleanest place and most comfortable place, wraps Jesus in swaddling clothes which are rags and places Jesus in a manger; a food trough out of which the animals eat and drink. This Christmas scene of the crib can seem simple and beautiful.
Yet, God is calling us into a deeper relationship. Through our relationship with Jesus Christ; the baby, the man, the Son of God. The simplicity of the crib and child in the manger opens us to allow ourselves to be vulnerable. Pope Francis said, “In the manger of rejection and discomfort, God makes himself present to us. He comes there because there we see the problem of our humanity: the indifference produced by the greedy rush to possess and consume. There, in that manger, Christ is born, and there we discover His closeness to us. He comes there, to a feeding trough, to become our food. God is no Father who devours His children, but the Father who, in Jesus, makes us His children and feeds us with His tender love. He comes to touch our hearts and to tell us that love alone is the power that changes the course of history. He does not remain distant and mighty but draws near to us in humility; leaving His throne in heaven, He lets himself be laid in a manger. . .”
“. . . Tonight (today), God is drawing near to you because you are important to Him. From the manger, as food for your life, He tells you: “If you feel consumed by events, if you are devoured by a sense of guilt and inadequacy, if you hunger for justice, I, your God, am with you. I know what you are experiencing, for I experienced it Myself in that manger. I know your weaknesses, your failings, and your history. I was born to tell you that I am, and always will be, close to you.”
The Christmas manger, the first message of the divine Child, tells us that God is with us, He loves us, and He seeks us. So, take heart! Do not allow yourself to be overcome by fear, resignation, or discouragement. God was born in a manger so that you could be reborn in the very place where you thought you had hit rock bottom. There is no evil, there is no sin, from which Jesus does not want to save you. And He can. Christmas means that God is close to us: let confidence be reborn! “The kingdom of God is within us that it might grow and bear fruit.”
Mary treasured all these things in her heart. When we reflect on the crib scene God nourishes our spiritual lives which gives us the fruits of peace, the hope and joy to be reignited with Jesus Christ the Savior of the World. At the end of Mass when you go to the crib, remember the baby in the manger is the same Jesus who calls you into a relationship and who feeds you with His Body the Eucharist to show you the Way, teach you the Truth and give you the Life. A little girl in Bethlehem said to her mother, “maybe the war will stop so Jesus can be born again.”