December 24, 2011 - Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord, Mass at Midnight

Today's Readings

Today we celebrate the birth of Savior, Jesus Christ, who was born in a stable and laid in a manger. I think that most people today, since we do not get to see mangers very often, think that a manger is a place where the baby Jesus was laid. A manger is a feeding trough. A place that cows and sheep eat hay out of. It was the best that Mary and Joseph had, so it was what they used. I saw that manger once, myself. It is in Rome, in the Basilica of Mary Major, just a few logs really. You can see it too, if you go to Rome.

Consider the imagery of Jesus, the bread of life, born in the town of Bethlehem, which means house of bread, and laid in a feeding trough, a place for food. This baby, Jesus, is the bread that we eat at Mass, which is not bread. Although it looks like bread, it is Jesus.

Consider the poverty that Jesus was born into. A woman gave birth in a stable. That woman is the Queen of Heaven and Earth. The child she gave birth to was laid on the cleanest hay Joseph could find, which probably was not all that clean. That child is the King of All Creation. God could have provided the best bed in the world and the most luxurious room, but Jesus did not descend from heaven to earth to spend time with the rich and powerful. He was always poor.

Consider how Jesus had begun 9 months earlier as a little zygote. He grew up into an embryo, then a fetus, then a baby, then a child, then a teenager, and then a man. If there were no other reason for honoring human life at every stage, then we would have this: our God was embryo, our God was a fetus. We say that a person is a person no matter how small, but even if someone doubted whether a child just formed in its mother’s womb is a human being, they can be certain that God once looked just like that.

Consider the shepherds, humble men who did not expect to see a king that night. When God chose people to witness his birth and to announce the message to the whole world, he sent his angels to shepherds: dirty, uneducated, poor shepherds.

Consider the angels. Since God created them, they had been waiting to announce this message. What a source of happiness it was to them to be chosen for that choir which sang for a few shepherds and sheep. We can hear in their message their pleading with the world to comprehend what a great honor has been bestowed on us. The angel spoke to those shepherds 2000 years ago, but the message was for everyone, “good news of great joy that will be for all people”, including you and I who hear the message proclaimed on the other side of the earth all these years later.

Consider Mary, watching over the child. First she holds him; then she lays him in a manger. This child, whom she has known for 9 months, whom she has felt for 9 months, she can now see with her eyes. He is now shared with a cruel world. What thoughts went through the mind of the Mother of God seeing her baby boy, we would not understand if we knew them. We can only imagine the love of the sinless mother seeing the child who she worships and adores.

Consider Joseph, standing a little apart, standing guard, keeping watch. He is not able to join the intimacy of mother and child, but he does see, and he knows that this child will take away his sins and the sins of all the world. When the shepherds arrived, a crowd of rough men, I wonder what thoughts went through his mind, whether he was getting ready to fight them off when he found out that they had come to worship the child and honor the mother.

Consider the animals in the stable. Here was their creator, and here was the new Adam and the new Eve. Not since the days of the first man and woman had they been what they ought to be. Humans were given authority over all the animals, and since humans fell the animals had never quite been right. But these oxen and donkeys were ennobled by the presence of the King and Queen who could rightfully take on that authority once again.

Consider the people who were asleep in beds that night. Kings and queens and farmers and workmen: the whole world: people in China and people in England and people in South Africa and people in America and even people right there in Bethlehem. They went to bed that night with no idea of what was going to happen. They woke up the next morning and did not know, but the whole world was different.

Consider the love of God for the world. He so loved the world that he sent his only Son as our Savior. All we have to do is love him in return. He does not force us to love him by being strong, but by being weak. The weakness of God: the weakness in the manger and the weakness on the cross. The weakness of God is stronger than the strength of humans. How can we help but love a little baby? How can we help but love a man who suffered and died for us? How could our hearts be so hardened?

How are we going to respond then? We know that Jesus is forgiving. We know that Jesus only wants us to be saved. We know that even some of those who helped kill Jesus are now with him forever in heaven. We do not have to be afraid of God striking us with lightning if we make a mistake. The time has passed when God was revealing his holiness to the world in that way. Now God is revealing to us his love. Will we take advantage of his forbearance and offend him freely? No. We will look at that child, the newborn child (not even like the one we see in manger scenes who is more like a tiny adult) but a newborn child, so fragile and weak, and we will love him and we will know without the least doubt that he loves us.