Readings: Isaiah 9:1-7; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14
Christ mas is a very emotional time for people. We are, by our human make-up, emotional persons and our feelings stand out at Christmas as at no other time of the year. Does anyone behave at the feast of the Lord’s resurrection the way we do at Christmas?
There are many perfectly good reasons for our emotional behavior at Christmas. It is deeply moving to see small children introduced to Jesus who became a child like them. Away in a manger no crib for a bed,/the little Lord Jesus lay down his sweet head, we sing and it brings us back to our early childhood. Santa Claus his place of honor at Christmas, but how very much more does the Baby Jesus; and children welcome his special place into their hearts.
But is that the only meaning that Christmas is about for all of us who celebrate Christmas as grown-ups? St. Paul wrote to the first Christian converted at Corinth, that they had to put aside childish ways and now assume adult thinking, if they would wish to grown in Christ to maturity. And so now do we. As tender as the manger scene is in all our churches, the original was anything but tender. Joseph’s horror and shame that he could not provide suitable care for Mary, his wife, when her time came to give birth. And don’t forget Mary’s extreme exhaustion from a long trip, in her advanced pregnancy, all the way from Galilee to Bethlehem, and now denied shelter. They surely struggled to accept what God asked them to endure.
Can we try to put ourselves in their circumstances? How could they understand, at that moment, why it needed to be this way? And even worse, to have to flee for their lives into Egypt, when they were warned that the life of the one whom God had placed in their care to protect and raise, was being sought out by Herod to slay him. Not only Rachel wept for her children and could not be comforted that night! Truly a sword would pierce their hearts, as Simeon had prophesized to Mary. This is the adult sort of experience we all need to reflect on, as well as the tender feelings we have for a newborn infant–the deep mystery of how God chose to come to his people in poverty and suffering, only to have his own reject him.
The mystery of salvation–a mystery of faith; God’s wisdom as opposed to the world’s wisdom…The risen Lord told his two disciples walking to Emmaus that it was necessary that the Christ had first to suffer these things and so enter into his glory. If it is thus for the Master, what will it be for the disciple? What price Christian love?
Our Christmas celebration this year is a very special one. This celebration of the birth of the Savior falls within the Jubilee Year of Mercy begun by Pope Francis two and a half weeks ago. The first words of his proclamation stated: “Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy.” The Holy Father then adds: ” These words…sum up the mystery of the Christian Faith.” For anyone who looks at the manger scene and sees there the face of the newborn infant, the pope’s words take on a powerful force and make a deep impact. Does my faith allow me to see the face of God in the face of an infant? A face of him who was turned away from the inn, a face of helplessness and poverty, a face totally dependent on God’s care.
This, we are told to believe, is the face of the Father’s mercy. The face of the world’s Savior. What do I see when I look on this face–human tragedy and rejection? Or do I see in this face an expression of mercy and of love for each and everyone of us who has ever existed and who will ever exist? We see the face of God in that infant. Pope Francis has challenged us this year of the Jubilee of Mercy: “Be merciful as your heavenly father is merciful.” Those words sum up for us our Christian behavior. So what do I see when I look upon the manger scene tonight? Christmas is the face poof God on a newborn infant.