Merry Christmas! Here is the reflection I prepared for the celebration of the Christmas liturgies (with help from Pope Francis): an invitation to contemplate the figures in the manger scene in order to help us discover and appreciate the gift that we have received.
Light for those who have walked in darkness
Christmas is here! All the preparations are complete, and it is time for us to pause and to contemplate the meaning of this moment. The prophet Isaiah says that the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light (Is 9:2), but we might ask: what is this light? From the earliest years of my childhood, I have always associated Christmas with the manger scene. It is a scene of simplicity and yet it is filled with hope, and hope is the great gift that God showers upon us.
The scene takes place in Bethlehem, which at the time was nothing more than a small village, but despite its remote status, Bethlehem already held great importance for people of faith. You see, it was the place where David was born; you remember the story of David, the shepherd boy who was chosen by God and named king of Israel? Bethlehem was not the capital of Israel, and perhaps for that reason, it was the preferred location where God would make himself known: not through human power, but rather through little ones, humble people. In that hill country, Jesus, the son of David, was born. In him, God sent the gift of his peace and the promise of true happiness. In fact, everything that the human heart desires can be found in Jesus.
In the gospel, we heard the story of Joseph and Mary, who travelled from Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem. This would not have been an easy journey, but it was a necessary journey because Caesar Augustus had issued a decree, calling for a census to be taken (cf Lk 2:1), and since Joseph was descended from the house and family of David (Lk 2:4) he needed to return to the city of David – Bethlehem – together with Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was expecting a child (Lk 2:6).
Our contemplation of the manger scene must include Mary. What was it like for her, a young girl who was promised in marriage, to meet an angel? What was that conversation like? Yet, she said yes to God’s invitation, and her yes opened the door of this world so that God’s plan could be fulfilled. Hers is a heart filled with hope and faith. She who discovered the meaning of her life through the message of an angel (cf Lk 1:26-38), and who had carried the Son of God in her womb can teach us to find the meaning in our lives, to find true joy, happiness and purpose. She does this by bringing us to the manger, and teaching us to contemplate the child who is lying there. In him, we see the love of God who came to save his people.
Joseph can also be found in the manger, standing beside Mary, gazing upon the child. As he did, I wonder whether the words the angel spoke to him in a dream were not also ringing in his ears. He too had said yes, but in that moment, was he perhaps both excited and fearful at the same time about the mission that God had entrusted to him. This child was from the Holy Spirit, and God himself had commanded that his name be Jesus. In this woman’s son, God has saved all humanity from death and sin. Mary and Joseph can help all of us not only to know about Jesus, but to encounter him and to know him personally.
We also find shepherds in the manger scene. Shepherds were humble and poor. They too were waiting for the fulfillment of Isaiah’s promise (cf Is 9:2-7), that one day Israel would be comforted (cf Lk 2:25) and that Jerusalem would be redeemed (cf Lk 2:38). In the child born of Mary, the shepherds saw the fulfillment of their hope that God’s salvation would finally reach them. We too can draw near to the manger, like the shepherds. We too can trust in God, hope in him and rejoice in him when we recognize in Him the sign that the angels sang about (cf Lk 2:12).
In this child, God established his kingdom of love, justice and peace. This is the promise in which we all can hope, and we express this hope by praising and thanking God as together with the angels, we sing: Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth, peace among those he favours! (Lk 2:14).