Vol. 6, No. 16
Daughters of Mary Instruction
20 December 2016
Lynn D. Clapper
As we approach the celebration of Christmas, the simple story of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem becomes the story of the coming of a savior. While we have always known, along with Mary and Joseph, that their baby is Jesus, the long-awaited Messiah, very few others were aware of how momentous their baby’s birth would actually be. The tiny baby Jesus was the Son of God, and as the gospel writers will tell us, his birth will have a profound effect on everyone who hears the news.
The Gospel readings for Christmas reflect this change in our story. Each Mass features a different Gospel reading…one from Matthew, two from Luke, and one from John, and each provides a very different perspective on the events of that night and morning. And, while the gospels that tell of Jesus’ birth were written many years after he was born, the gospel writers have much to tell us about that first Christmas, when the one who was to come was born and came to dwell among us. Let’s place ourselves in Bethlehem early on that first Christmas morning, when the news was spreading like wildfire through the town that a special baby boy had been born.
As the day dawns, Luke tells us that the crowded town of Bethlehem is abuzz with the news that some shepherds from the nearby hills had burst into town during the night searching for a newborn baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and laying in a manger. But, this is not really what has everyone talking, Luke says. The shepherds on the night watch in the hills just outside of town had been frightened by the glorious appearance of an angel who had announced to them that a savior had been born. Right there in Bethlehem, the town of David! And, they were saying, the night sky had then been lit up with the brilliance of thousands of angels that proclaimed, “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Shocked by this news, the shepherds had left their sheep, and rushed into town to see this miraculous baby that the Lord had made known to them. After looking everywhere, they found the baby, just as the angel had described, laying in a manger in a cave with his parents. They had blurted out the good news that the angels had told them, that their baby was a savior who was Christ and Lord for all the people! The shepherds were now on their way back to the hills, but they were glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. Everyone in town who heard this news was amazed by it. A savior? After waiting all these years, a savior has been born? The savior is to be a king, from the line of David, everyone thinks.
Matthew picks up the story. Yes, this new baby is the Messiah…everyone is talking about it. His father, Joseph, is descended from the family line of King David, and he is visiting Bethlehem because it is his family’s home town. Matthew goes on. The baby’s name is Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. He then describes a lineage that covers fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen generations from David to the time of the exile in Babylon, and fourteen generations from the exile until now. Joseph, the husband of the baby’s mother, Mary, is the last in this line of David’s ancestors. Even more unbelievable, Matthew says, both Mary and Joseph had been told by the angel that their baby was the long-awaited Messiah, who was conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit. He is the Son of God.
The Son of God? But, now John tells us a completely different version of this story. John does not even mention the shepherds’ tale of the events of the night before that are the talk of the town this morning. John explains that in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God, and the Word was made flesh and made his dwelling among us. And while we might look at him a bit quizzically as he tells us this, John reassures us by revealing that the baby Jesus is the one that John the Baptist told us was coming. Jesus is the true light who has come into the world. Jesus is the Word, and the Word was God.
Just like everyone else who has heard this good news, we are amazed. Our thoughts go back to the cave where the baby Jesus lay in a manger with Mary and Joseph close by, and as they listened to the shepherds’ excited talk of all the angels had told them about their newborn son, the good news that a savior had been born who was Christ and Lord, we can imagine that Mary and Joseph slowly began to grasp what this news would mean for all the world. Their son was a savior whose birth had been heralded by a host of angels who made a night sky brilliant with glory as they announced the good news to shepherds keeping a night watch. Their son. A savior.
And so, with the birth of Jesus Christ, time begins anew. The watchful waiting of thousands of years behind us, we turn the pages of the Old Testament, and enter into the story of the one who was to come. His story will not be a simple one, as his mother began to realize that night in a Bethlehem cave when shepherds came in search of a baby whose birth was good news for all the people. As Gina’s reflection today reminds us, the story of the salvation of a whole human race rests on the life of a man who was God, but was born of a virgin so that he could dwell among us. It is an unbelievable story.
But, however unbelievable the story might seem, it is a story we can believe. The story of the birth of a savior is still good news of great joy to us in our own time. And as we celebrate Christmas each year, if we pause to reflect on how the birth of Jesus came about, we have to look no further than the gospels of Christmas Day to explain to us that the birth of Jesus is no ordinary story of the birth of a baby boy. It is the story that describes the love of a God who would send his only Son to dwell among his people as a man. In the Christmas Gospels we find the story of Jesus Christ, son of Abraham, son of David, son of Mary and Joseph, Son of God. There we find the good news that an unlikely savior has been born to unlikely parents in an unlikely place; a savior who is Christ and Lord for all the world. And we are reminded, once again, that nothing is impossible for God.
As the word spreads this Christmas that our Savior has been born, let us make haste to find him, and to proclaim to the world the good news of great joy that the ancient promise of a Messiah has been fulfilled, at last. We will begin again. Emmanuel has come…God is with us.