A Christmas Meditation

1/30.1 In Bethlehem they did not want to receive Christ. Today, too, many people do not want to receive him.

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled.[442]

Now we can see clearly that this decree of the Roman Emperor’s was part of God’s providence. It is the reason why Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem, and Jesus was born there as had been prophesied many centuries before.[443]

Our Lady knew that Jesus’ birth was about to take place and she set out on that journey with her thoughts centered on the Child who was to be born of her in the town of David.

They came to Bethlehem, both with the joy of having reached the place of their ancestors and with the tiredness caused by travelling along badly made roads for four or five days. In her condition, Our Lady must have been very tired when she arrived. And in Bethlehem they could not find anywhere to stay. There was no place for them in the inn,[444] says St Luke briefly. Perhaps Joseph judged that the crowded inn was not a suitable place for Our Lady, especially in those circumstances. St Joseph must have knocked on many doors before taking Mary to a stable on the outskirts of the town. We can well imagine the scene: Joseph explaining time and again with growing anxiety, the same story, that they had come from..., and Mary a few feet away seeing Joseph and hearing the refusals. They did not let Christ in. They shut the doors on him. Mary feels sorry for Joseph and for those people. How cold the world is towards its God!

Perhaps it was Our lady who suggested to Joseph that they could stay provisionally in one of those caves, which served as stables outside the town. She probably encouraged him, telling him not to worry, that they would manage... Joseph would feel comforted by Mary’s words and her smile. So they made their lodging there with the few belongings they had been able to bring from Nazareth: the swaddling clothes, some items that she herself had prepared with that joy that only mothers can experience when they prepare for their first child.

It was there that the greatest event of humanity’s history took place, with the utmost simplicity. And while they were there, St Luke tells us, the time came for her to be delivered.[445] Mary lovingly wrapped Jesus in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger.

The Virgin had a more perfect faith than any other before her or since. All her gestures were an expression of her faith and her tenderness. She would have kissed his feet because he was her Lord, his cheek because he was her Son. She would have remained quietly contemplating him for a very long time.

Later Mary placed the Child in Joseph’s arms. Joseph well knows that this the Son of the Most High, whom he must care for, protect and teach a trade. Joseph’s whole life centers around this defenseless Child.

Jesus, newly born, does not speak; but he is the eternal Word of the Father. It has been said that the manger is a Chair of learning. Today we should learn the lessons which Jesus teaches us, even when he is just a newly born child, from the very moment he opens his eyes on this blessed land of men.[446]

He is born poor, and he teaches us that happiness is not to be found in an abundance of earthly goods. He comes into the world without any ostentation, encouraging us to be humble and not to depend on the applause of men. God humbled himself to allow us to get near him, so that we could give our love in exchange for his, so that our freedom might bow, not at the sight of his power merely, but before the wonder of his humility.[447]

We make a resolution to live the virtues of detachment and humility. We look at Mary and we see her filled with joy. She knows that a new era has begun for humanity – that of the Messiah, her Son. We ask her never to let us lose the joy of being beside Jesus.

1/30.2 The Messiah’s birth. The ‘Chair’ of Bethlehem.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph were alone. But God sought out simple people as their companions: some shepherds, perhaps because, as they were humble, they would not be dismayed at finding the Messiah in a cave, wrapped in swaddling clothes.

It is to the shepherds of that district that the prophet Isaiah referred: those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them light has shone.[448]

On this first night it is in them alone that the prophecy is fulfilled, And an angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them.[449] And the angel said to them, ‘Be not afraid; for behold I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord’.[450]

That night they are the first and only people to learn the news. On the other hand, today, millions of men throughout the world know of it. The light of that night in Bethlehem has reached many hearts, but nevertheless, at the same time, darkness remains. Sometimes it even seems more intense ... The men of that night welcomed the news; they experienced great joy – the joy that comes forth from light. The world’s darkness overcome by the light of the birth of God...

It does not matter that on this first night, the night of God’s birth, the joy of that event should have reached only a few hearts: it does not matter. It is destined for every human heart! It is the joy of the whole human race, a superhuman joy! Could there be any greater joy than this, any greater Good News than this: man has been accepted by God so as to become his son in this Son of God who has become man?[451]

God also wanted those shepherds to be the first bearers of the news: they would go around telling all they had heard and seen. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.[452] In the same way Jesus reveals himself to us in the midst of the ordinary incidents of each day; and we need the same dispositions of simplicity and humility in order to reach him. It is possible that throughout our lives he gives us signs that mean nothing to us if we see him merely humanly. We have to be alert so as to discover Jesus in the simplicity of ordinary life, wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger, without any showy manifestations. Everyone who sees Christ feels moved to make him known straight away. He cannot wait.

Naturally, the shepherds would not have set out without taking gifts for the baby. In the eastern world of those days it was inconceivable that anybody should present himself before a respected person without a gift. They would take what they had; a lamb, cheese, butter, milk, curd.[453]

Doubtless it is not far removed from reality to imagine the scene as it is portrayed in the countless cribs of our days and in the Christmas carols which Christians sing with simplicity and which many of us may have made the theme of our prayer.

Mary and Joseph, surprised and delighted, invite the shy shepherds to come in and see the Child, to kiss him, to sing to him, and to leave their gifts beside the manger. Nor can we go to the cave of Bethlehem without taking our gift.

Perhaps what Our Lady would thank us for is that our heart be more devoted, more pure, more cheerful because it is conscious of its divine filiation: a heart which we have made better disposed through a contrite Confession, so that Our Lord can live more fully in us. The confession that perhaps for some time now, God has been waiting for...

Mary and Joseph are inviting us to go in. And once inside we say to Jesus with the Church: King of the universe, whom the shepherds found wrapped in swaddling clothes, help us always to imitate your poverty and your simplicity.[454]

1/30.3 Adoration of the shepherds. Humility and simplicity in order to recognize Christ in our lives.

Let us all rejoice in the Lord, for our Savior has been born in the world. Today true peace has come down to us from heaven.[455] We have heard, my brethren, the announcement, full of sweetness and ‘worthy of all acceptance’ that ‘Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is born in Bethlehem of Judah’. My very soul has melted at the sound of these words and my spirit is burning in my bosom, eager with its constant ardor of desire to communicate to you its own joy and exultation.[456]

Let us all set out to contemplate and adore Jesus, for we all need him. He is the only one we really need.

There is no journey so great as that of seeking Christ

There is no journey so great as that of looking for Christ

There is no journey so great

go the words of a popular Spanish carol, telling us that no path is worth following unless it leads us to the Baby Jesus.

Today our Savior is born. There can be no room for sadness when Life has just been born; that Life which overcomes all fear of death and fills us with the joy of the pledge of eternity.

Nobody should feel excluded from sharing in such joy. Our reason for rejoicing is common to all, because Our Lord, destroyer of sin and death, not finding anyone free of sin has come to free us all. Let the just man rejoice, as victory approaches. Let the Gentile rejoice, for he is called to life.

For the Son, in the fulness of time... assumed our human nature in order to reconcile the human race with its Creator.[457] Hence springs the joy of these feast days, like a river overflowing its banks.

During these days of Christmas we sing with exultation because love will be among us till the end of time. The presence of the Child is Love among men; the world is no longer a place of darkness; those who seek for love know where to find it. It is essentially love that each man needs – even those men who claim to be already fully satisfied.

Today, whenever we go to kiss an image of the Child Jesus, or contemplate a crib or meditate on this great mystery, let us thank God for having wanted to come down to us so that we could understand him and love him. Let us make up our minds to become as little children so as to enter one day into the kingdom of heaven. We will finish our prayer asking our Father God that we may share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.[458]

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us.

[442] Luke 2:10

[443] Mic 5:2

[444] cf Luke 2:7

[445] Luke 2:6

[446] St J. Escrivá, Christ is passing by, 14

[447] ibid, 18

[448] Is 9:2

[449] Luke 2:9

[450] Luke 2:10

[451] Blessed John Paul II, Homily of the Mass of Christmas Night, 1980

[452] Luke 2:18

[453] F. M. Willan, Life of Mary, p 110

[454] Divine Office, Lauds, Prayers, 5 January

[455] Entrance Antiphon, Midnight Mass

[456] St Bernard, Sermons for Christmas Eve, 6:1

[457] St Leo the Great, Sermon on the Birth of Our Lord, 1:3

[458] Collect, Christmas Day

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Francis Fernandez-Carvajal,

Rev. Francis Fernandez-Carvajal

Rev. Francis Fernández-Carvajal is a Priest of the Opus Dei Prelature and the author of many popular spiritual works. His seven-volume series In Conversation with God provides over 500 meditations to be used throughout the liturgical year. It has sold over 2 million copies and has been translated into many languages.

Francis Fernandez-Carvajal,

Rev. Francis Fernandez-Carvajal

Rev. Francis Fernández-Carvajal is a Priest of the Opus Dei Prelature and the author of many popular spiritual works. His seven-volume series In Conversation with God provides over 500 meditations to be used throughout the liturgical year. It has sold over 2 million copies and has been translated into many languages.