We are celebrating the Nativity of the Lord that takes place at about midnight when nature sleeps. It takes place tonight in our hearts and in our community as we re-live liturgically that first and glorious night.
The sacred readings inspire us. The prophet Isaiah cf. Is 9:1-6): “For a child is born to us, a son is given us… They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, and Prince of Peace.” (It is also inspiring to listen to the Messiah of Handel) Saint Paul (Tit 2:11-14): “The grace of God has appeared saving all … The appearance of our great God and savior Jesus Christ.” St. Luke (Lk 2:1-14): (Angel to shepherds): “You will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”
We all know the meaning and the mystery of Christmas: “God so loved the world that He gave us his only Son.” Tonight and through the Christmas Season, we contemplate the Child Jesus in the crib. Let me share with you a few pointers that might be helpful to you as they are to me.
A Christmas Carol from Belgium tells us something truly moving: The shepherds go to offer gifts to the Child Jesus: cheese, honey, a lamb… One shepherd goes with empty hands. Why do you come to adore the little Child without any gift? The shepherd answers: “I only bring my surprise!” Every Christmas brings us believers an unimaginable surprise: “And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” What a sublime surprise, what an amazing grace! What incomparable beauty. St. John of God loved to repeat: “If you wish to see and contemplate beauty on earth, ask the Lord to give you: eyes to see a young girl with a little child on her arms in a portico of Bethlehem. There is nothing more beautiful.” Blessed Angelico painted the crib and St. Dominic kneeling before the Child Jesus contemplating the mystery of Christmas, mystery of our faith: “He became what we are that we might become what He is” (St. Athanasius). How can this be?
A large family in a rural town goes to the Christmas Midnight Mass, except a young man who stays home because he cannot believe that God became man. This is – he said – impossible! There was that night a raging snow storm; it was windy and freezing. From the window of his room, he sees a flock of birds in the backyard: the birds are looking for shelter. He tries to help them by opening the door of the barn, but the birds are afraid and do not follow him to the barn. He puts bread crumbs along the way leading to the barn. No dice. He tries to befriend the birds by walking and raising his arms as if flying. Once again, no dice. Then he realizes something: “If only I could be a bird for a moment, perhaps I could save them.” At that very moment, the story goes, he hears the church bells ringing the Glory of Christmas and became aware of the mystery of the Incarnation: “Now – he says – I see why God has to become one of us, to save us” (from Louis Cassels). Jesus was born and died to save us and to show us the way to salvation and happiness – the way of love.
Sometime ago, little children presented a Play of the Nativity. All the teachers of the elementary and the parents of the children were present and eagerly waiting for the play to start. The angels came, the shepherds followed, and then Mary – very close to give birth – and Joseph. They were looking for a place to stay – and Mary, to give birth to Jesus. Mary and Joseph knocked at the door of the inn, and a little child of six opened the door. They asked him: “Please can we have a room for the night?” The boy innkeeper answered: “Sorry, there is no room in the inn.” But immediately the innkeeper changed his mind and said (and this he invented): “Hang on! Don’t go away. You can have my room” (from Margaret Silf).
“May Jesus have my room – my heart? May he have yours? “Each one of us is an innkeeper who decides if there is room for Jesus” (Max Maxwell). And, as we know – and as we feel by just imagining the real crib , the crib of Bethlehem -, a room for Jesus today means to be truly sensitive towards the needy – to a few concrete people who are in need in our midst.
This comment moved me to meditate: “Christ is always with us, always asking for room in our hearts… I’m sure that the shepherds did not adore and then go away to leave Mary and her Child in the stable; but somehow found them room, even though what they had to offer might have been primitive enough. If we hadn’t got Christ’s own words for it, it would seem raving lunacy to believe that if I offer a bed and food and hospitality for Christmas – or any other time, for that matter – …my guest is Christ…” (Dorothy Day). On the background of the real manger we can read these invisible words from Jesus, the preacher: “What you do to the least of my brothers and sisters you do it to me.” I am not trying to put too much seriousness on the joy and beauty of Christmas as a family feast. I am – aren’t we all? -for a joyful and beautiful and sweet Christmas. But true joy and beauty and sweetness are qualities of true happiness that only comes from solidarity with others and compassion to the needy – and God’s grace, which is always available to us. The real enemy of Christmas – of my happiness – is my selfishness, my “fat ego.” Therefore I am in need of “un-selfing.” Are you? Jesus is here to help us do what we can and pray for what we cannot.
And yes, by all means, “Glory to God in the highest and peace to all men and women.” My dear sisters and brothers: How do we respond to the unique surprise of the mystery of the birth of Jesus? How? By striving – I suggest – to celebrate Christmas with the right attitude. We celebrate the Birth of Christ in this Liturgy, that is, we re-live the birth of Jesus in the Liturgy and in our lives. We celebrate this Holy Eucharist with hopeful faith, joyful gratitude, and, above all, with an attitude of humble adoration.
Adoration means recognizing our radical dependence from God and from his grace. Humble adoration is the attitude of Christmas: it is the attitude of Mary and Joseph, who adore the child Jesus in awe and amazement; the attitude of the shepherds, who kneel before the crib with faith and humility; the attitude of the Magi, who present their gifts to the child as a symbol of their veneration of the Child.
May we all, lovers of Jesus, have a Blessed Christmas, that is, may Jesus continue growing in our hearts and may those around us notice it by the way we treat them with kindness and compassion.
Dear Mary, Mother of the Son of God and our Mother, help us all to have and live this blessed or happy Christmas. Amen.
(Fausto B. Gómez, St. Dominic Priory, Dec 24, 2016)