We have seen a great Light

Christmas

ChristmasGreat LightWe are all familiar with the Christmas stories, and they feature on greeting cards, in carols, and in the decorations that we delight in – in both our homes and our Churches. But where do they come from? Obviously, we all say, from the Gospels … But which Gospel? What do the stories in the Gospels tell us?The Church answers those questions by using the Gospels in our Christmas Masses, so that we might hear the story, and think about what it means for us.

For the Midnight Mass of 2010, the Church has us read and reflect upon the Gospel of Luke for the celebration of Christmas night. It does this because of Luke’s memorable story of Jesus’ birth. As we readers of the Salesian Bulletin celebrate Christmas 2010, let us pause for a moment in the midst of our busy-ness and joy, and hear what the Lord is saying to us in Luke 2:1-14.

 

Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus, the moment when the Son of God enters our story, opens with a series of names and places. Jesus did not simply come among us; he came into the world at a given place, in a given time. It was the time when greatest human figures did important things: Caesar Augustus issued a decree for a census of the whole world. His delegate, the slightly lesser Quirinius, looks to the area of Syria (vv. 1-2). At this time, two simple people, Joseph and Mary, set out from their home in Nazareth for Bethlehem, an insignificant town in Palestine, the city of David to which Joseph belonged. At Bethlehem they find that the usual resting places for travellers are full (vv. 6-7).

They began a journey from Nazareth which led them to Bethlehem (v. 4). But there is no place for Jesus in the usual resting houses. Jesus is born on a journey, for a journey. The Gospel of Luke tells the story of a man who begins his life in Bethlehem, and ends it in his ascension to God from Jerusalem where he has suffered, died and been raised. During his life, he calls others to follow him (5:1-11).

At birth Jesus is wrapped, as a king, in swaddling clothes. In the Bible, only one person is wrapped in these tight cloths, to ensure that his limbs will grow straight and strong: Solomon (see Wisdom 7:4-5). Swaddling clothes are the clothes of the newborn King. He is laid in a manger so that the prophecy of Isaiah might be reversed: “The ox knows its owner and the ass its master’s manger. Israel knows nothing, my people understands nothing” (Isaiah 1:2-3). Now Israel can come to its manger, and recognise its master. However, as Simeon will soon tell Jesus’ Mother, this act of recognition will create division: “Behold this child is set for the falling and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign to be spoken again (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35).

The first children of Israel summoned to the manger are not the high and the mighty. Shepherds are called from their flocks with the words: ‘Today in the town of David a saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord’ (v. 11). They are given the sign of the king in swaddling cloths and the manger at which Israel will be nourished. As they respond to the Word of God angels announce the glory of God and the wonders of his blessings upon all who are open to his goodness.

This famous Christmas story stands at the heart of much of our understanding of God’s becoming a man and dwelling among us. However, as the reading hints, there is more to it than the scene of a child in a stable. Luke’s story of the birth of Jesus tells of a reversal of the value systems of the world. It opens with a list of people whom the world would regard the greatest (Caesar Augustus) to the less great (Quirinius) to the unimportant (Joseph and Mary). It closes with a song praising God who has given us a saviour in the newly born son of a humble woman, and who calls shepherds from their fields to be the first to acknowledge their Christ and Lord.

Christmas time in Australia can sometimes lead to a search for the gift with the correct label. It can also be a time when family conflicts are most painfully felt. This year, may it be a time when we stop and re-assess our values. The discovery of the newly born King, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, challenges us to make our decision. The Midnight Mass also uses a reading announcing that a people who walked in darkness has seen a great light (Is 9:1). But the light can be accepted, refused, trivialised, or even mocked. How will it be for us in 2010?

May our Christmas of 2010 be filled with the light of love given and love received, reflecting in our lives and our relationships the love of God who has poured love into our story in the birth of his Son, Jesus Christ.