GSC Christmas Eve 2018
Just last evening many people will have been considering Mary`s visit to her much older second cousin Elizabeth to give her the Good News that Mary too was pregnant as Elizabeth was, in spite of her advanced years. That both had conceived was indeed miraculous – Elizabeth because she was past the age of child-bearing but who was carrying the child of her priestly husband Zechariah. Mary, on the other hand was carrying the child of God through the intervention of the Holy Spirit.
For us it does require a massive act of faith to get our heads around the situation as it must have done St. Joseph. We have our rather clinical crib scenes where everything in the garden looks rosy but that first Christmas was anything but rosy. Joseph was betrothed to Mary - a term which is stronger than engagement but not quite marriage but the firm intention of marriage and, of course, Mary must have told Joseph of her encounter with Gabriel the Messenger of God and how that she was pregnant! Joseph must have though this “a likely story”. I suspect that he was initially angry beyond belief and assuming that Mary had been unfaithful thus his initial desire to ”put her away quietly” that is divorce her without too much fuss and get her out of the way! This would have been the proper course of action for a devout Jew following the Law of Moses though she could have been stoned to death for adultery! Joseph reveals a great gentleness of spirit in that his initial desire was just to put Mary away quietly. However, it does take a vision of Gabriel to Joseph that he, Gabriel, might explain what in fact was going on both in the womb of Mary and in the mind and heart of Almighty God. This was the most extraordinary birth of a child in the whole of history and it has not been repeated since!
In our current culture or in our devotional life we tend to simplify the Nativity story or even romanticize it. In fact the Lord`s birth took place in tremendous hardship and stress to the Holy Family. The Family were of King David`s Line so following the decree of Caesar Augustus they had to go to the family town of Bethlehem to be registered in this outpost of the pagan Roman Empire whose leaders despised them and they their tyrannic overlords – Pontius Pilate being the local Governor. For a woman in the last stages of pregnancy to have to journey all the way from Nazareth in Upper Galilee to Bethlehem some seven miles south-west of Jerusalem – about a week`s journey on a donkey on the Nablus road south. When they got there all the .local accommodation had been booked up so the Son of God – Emmanuel – God-is-with-us was born in a stable which was probably in a dark cave and laid in a manger – an animal feeding trough used by the local shepherds. We forget too that shepherds were counted among the lowest of the low because their work, by its very nature, made them ritually unclean so they would not be able to worship in the Temple or even at Synagogue! But it was these poor Shepherds who received the message of the Angels that the day of their liberation had come and the one who was born that night was in fact the Good Shepherd who would lay down his life for his sheep (those who would follow Him).
This Jesus, the Lord of Glory, the Son of God, the only-begotten of the Father could have come into the world and ruled as King had he chosen to. He could have come and destroyed the enemies of God and destroyed evil for all time. This, however, is not God`s way for he chose to come into our time and human history to save humanity from ourselves, our self-centredness and our sin. The Son of God was born into a working family of poorer class and who in order to save the life of Jesus had to become refugees in Egypt for over a decade. Away from their family ties, their home and their friends.
Many have asked why the birth of Jesus and the thirty years that followed before His baptism by John had to be like this. It was in order to experience the deprivations that so many of our fellow human beings have to endure and so live in the most ordinary and even lowly human circumstances.
St. Paul provides us with the perfect answer as to why Jesus had to endure all this in preparation for his three year ministry in Galilee when he writes in chapter 2 verses 6 to 8 of his letter to the Philippians: “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even death on a cross.”
God “did that” because he loves us. God “did that” for you and for me. In these days of Christmas in all of our celebration and enjoyment tonight and tomorrow and in all the days that come this is reality of the “Word made flesh” that truly is worth celebrating.