Our Lady’s Feasts – The Nativity of Christ

“While all things were in quiet silence, and the night was in the midst of her course, thine almighty word, O Lord, came down from heaven, from Thy royal throne…”

The long-awaited of nations, the promised One, the Redeemer for Whose coming the faithful had prayed through thousands of weary years, came at last to earth in the little village of Bethlehem when during a brief period this warring world was at peace. The peace was an uneasy one, under the iron grip of Caesar Augustus. In obedience to that ruler, Joseph had left his little home at Nazareth to journey to the city of David, to be enrolled in the census with Mary his espoused wife. Such a trip in midwinter was a definite hardship for them, as the laws of tyrants are often uncomfortable and unreasonable. However, Mary and Joseph were accustomed to obedience and, complying with the haughty order of an earthly ruler, they fulfilled the prophecy of a greater One, that the Redeemer should be born in Bethlehem. Later, Christ was to die under the sentence of an earthly judge who but carried out an eternal decree. Speculatively, it is easy to remember these things, but at Bethlehem, in the piercing cold with every door closed against them, it took both Faith and humility to see God’s hand in the arrogance of creatures.

In the words of the Nicene Creed, Jesus is:

“…The only-begotten Son of God and born of the Father before all ages. God of God, light of light, true God of true God. Begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father: by Whom all things were made…”

Yet when He came down from heaven to be born on earth, He did not disdain to be obedient to His creatures Mary and Joseph. They in their turn were obedient to their earthly superiors, not because of inferiority but to show us, proud creatures that we are, that those nearest to God are the most humble.

It seems strange to us that the Hebrew people, who had waited and prayed so long for His coming, would not have welcomed Him when He came. Why did they allow Him to be born in a stable? Humility has never been given a kingly reception by the proud ones of earth, and the humble are seldom glamorous. The Hebrews expected a king who would arrive in glory to restore their nation to its former power, a great temporal ruler who would crush their enemies and make them the rulers of the earth. A king in the disguise of a tiny babe, who came “in quiet silence,” was hardly the sort of Messiah they were expecting. So, when He came,

“…He, through whom the world was made, was in the world, and the world did not recognize him.”

Only those who were not :of the world” and its spirit of greed and selfishness could recognize in Mary’s little Son the Redeemer, the Light of the world.

But Mary knew. The angel had said to her at the Annunciation that He would be the Son of God, a King Who would reign forever. Her heart must have bled for the welcome He was receiving from the world He had made. The throne which the world had prepared for its King was a chilly cave on a hillside where the animals warmed Him with their breath. His welcomers were only frightened shepherds, kneeling in awe to worship Him Whose birth was sung by angels. Kings and rulers who should have been there offering their homage were far away and much too busy to care about this poor young couple who had had to take shelter in a cave because there was “no room in the inn.*’ And Mary, in spite of the breath-taking joy of holding in her arms the desired One of nations, must have wept bitterly because the earth He had made would grant Him no more than this. No more? Yes, they would one day offer Him another throne on the crest of Calvary; a crown of thorns for His lovely head; nails that were bigger by far than the tiny hands they would one day pinion to the wood of the cross. Mary knew what earth had prepared for its Redeemer.

It is true that God had shaped for Himself the most perfect throne in all the world, the spotless sanctuary of Mary’s breast. Around Him as He lay, a trembling babe in her arms, there showered down the most perfect adoration that a creature heart could frame. If God had made no other soul than Mary’s, still His boundless power. His love and mercy and goodness, would have received from her alone a satisfactory return on the investment in human nature. But in matter of fact Mary was not God’s only creature. He made the angels, and the angels had their trial from which some fell, never to rise again. He created man “a little less than the angels,” and man failed Him too. Now, face to face with the Redeemer Whom He in His Mercy had sent to them, what would they do and how would they welcome Him?

“…He came to what was his own, and they who were his own gave him no welcome.”

Not the cold winds that swept the Judean hills that night could trouble Him, for He had made the winds and they obeyed Him in blowing cold. The coldness that should not have met Him was the chilling indifference in the hearts of men, for the heart of man was shaped for love. Probably He was not much troubled at the innkeepers who closed their doors against Him that night, for after all they were poor and ignorant, rushed with the crowds coming into Bethlehem and probably guilty of very little sin. How should they know that this poor young woman was to be the Mother of the Messiah? She did not tell them so. But we, who know Who He is, cannot escape the responsibility. It is we who receive Him not.

Strangely and sadly. He comes but to bring us joy, of which we all have need:

“Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad before the face of the Lord, because He cometh.”

And we will have none of it. Deliberately we close our doors against the only Joy; willfully we refuse what Christ made the long journey from heaven to earth to bring us.

Nothing in all the world’s literature is so full of joy as the prayers of the Church for Advent and for Christmas. Every nation has its heritage of beauty in art, poetry, and music: no matter what foreign tyrant takes over the government, the people will cling to this last greatest wealth of literature. But the liturgy of the Church is a vast storehouse of wealth from which all may draw who possess one Faith. National differences disappear as all the earth cries out, today as two thousand years ago;

“To Thee have I lifted up my soul;
in Thee, O God, 1 put my trust…
Show, O Lord, Thy ways to me
and teach me Thy paths…”

as also in the last jubilant promise in the Mass for the Vigil of the Nativity:

“In the morning you shall see His glory.”

There is a joy in the Advent prayers that nothing on earth can equal, because they are so perfectly in accord with the spirit of those who did receive the Redeemer. They might be the very words of Mary, or Joseph, or the shepherds. Following these prayers yearly, as the Church urges us to do, makes us one in spirit with the humble ones who saw Him and understood. It makes the Incarnation a living thing, not an incident of the long ago but a tremendously important part of our lives which recurs again and again.

You and I were not at Bethlehem when His Mother wandered through the streets looking for a place where the Redeemer of the world could be born. We are present when He is born again each day in the Mass, and yet each day we find room for almost everybody but Christ. He comes to us in Holy Communion to bring us joy and strength and holiness and peace; and often we have no room. His Mother would teach us to be humble and obedient, and we have no room for her either. Perhaps we are too busy to answer her knock, or we have the uneasy feeling that it must be uncomfortable to be holy – and if there is anything this generation asks of life, it is to be comfortable.

Two thousand years are nothing in the eyes of God, Who is eternal. Today we are as certainly given the opportunity of receiving or rejecting Him as were the people of Bethlehem on a starry night long ago when

“The Word was made flesh,
and came to dwell among us;”

We cannot, with the shepherds, “go over to Bethlehem to see,” but our Faith tells us where we can find Him and why He has taken upon Himself the poor clothing of our nature. We cannot plead ignorance like the innkeepers of Bethlehem; we have had too many opportunities and good examples to remain in ignorance of Who He is. How much more the pity, then, if we deliberately reject the joy He comes to bring us and, in our pride, “receive Him not”!

“A light shall shine upon us this day,
for our Lord is born to us:
and He shall be called Wonderful, God,
the Prince of peace,
the Father of the world to come,
of Whose reign there shall be no end”