There are two sides of Christmas for us; a time to attend
mass for the spiritual celebration and the festive celebration of gifts and food
with family and friends.
Christmas is a holy time when we pause to reflect on that
night when, as John describes it “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling
among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of
grace and truth.” This was the night
when Jesus, Emmanuel, the Savior of the World was born.
Christmas is also big celebration. Gifts are exchanged with family and
friends. A big feast with turkey or
prime rib or the celebration meal that is our tradition is prepared. The air is filled with excitement and we look
forward to seeing everyone. The radio
and tv have Christmas music and movies about Christmas. It is the most joyous time of year and even
people who are usually grumpy brighten up at Christmas.
These two radically different views are apparent in today’s
Gospel. John said that Jesus came to his
own people and they rejected him. Some
accepted Jesus and to those he gave the power to become children of God.
Let’s go back approximately two thousand thirty years ago to
the night Jesus was born. What was that
celebration like? Well, there really
wasn’t one. Joseph took Mary, like
everyone else form the House of David, to Bethlehem to be enrolled. Enrolled was the term used for a census. In the United States there is a census every
ten years when people are counted where they live. The difference is that Joseph had to go to his
ancestral family city to be counted as a descendant of David. Joseph searched for a place to stay. He tried all his family and acquaintances, but
there was no place where they could stay for a few days to be enrolled. Everyone was too busy or already had too many
people staying. This is the familiar
story we know of how there was no room in the inn.
But Bishop Mueggenborg wrote “The Greek word kataluma
actually doesn’t mean “inn,” but rather “place of hospitality.” Our Lord was born in the cold darkness of a
stable, not because there were no available rooms, but because the people did
not welcome the Holy Family with compassion and hospitality. This passage is more about rejection, disconnection
and disinterest in the plight of others than it is about a lack of
Finally, Joseph is able to find someone who will let them get
out of the weather by staying in a shelter with the animals. During the night, Mary gives birth to her
firstborn son and they name him Jesus as instructed by the angel.
No one in Bethlehem other than Mary and Joseph knew or even
cared that Jesus was born. And even if
they would have known that a baby was born, they would not have known the
significance of who Jesus was – the Son of God, the Messiah, Emmanuel – the
Savior of the world.
The shepherds living in the fields keeping the night watch to
protect their sheep on the hillsides outside of town knew. During the night, an angel appeared to them
and told them “today, in the city of David a savior has been born for you who
is Christ and Lord. And this will be a
sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in
Then a multitude of heavenly hosts joined the angel saying, “Glory
to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” The shepherds went and found the baby Jesus
like the angels told them. Then the shepherds
returned to their fields glorifying God for all they heard and saw.
The Magi saw an extremely bright star in the sky and wondered
what it meant. They are positive that
the star has a very special meaning, something of universal importance but they
know they must find the answer for the bright star. They begin packing to follow that bright
star, to discover the star’s meaning. It
will take them a while to get there but they know that the star has a special significance.
But on the night that Jesus was born in the town of Bethlehem,
and no one knew that the Savior of the World was born. In the Gospel we heard how “He (the Savior of
the world) came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him.”
But not everyone is uncaring nor uncompassionate. The shepherds and Magi went in search of the
Christ Child. John tells us how some
accept Jesus as the Son of God, Emmanuel, the Savior of the World. “But to those who did accept him he gave
power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were
born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision but
of God.” Jesus brought hope to the world
darkened by sin. We are able to become
children of God.
The people of Bethlehem didn’t realize that the Savior of the
World was born during the night. Thirty
years later, the people would still not realize that the Savior of the World
was with them when Jesus started his ministry.
In fact, three years later, they would reject him and have him
The story of Jesus’ life is one of rejection and lack of compassion
from the time he is born to his death on the cross. Today, we celebrate the birth of Mary’s
firstborn son, Jesus, Emmanuel, the Savior of the World. But how do we celebrate it?
Are we like the people of Bethlehem who didn’t care about a
man with his pregnant spouse looking for a place to stay? It’s easy for us to criticize the people of
Bethlehem for their disconnection from the plight of Joseph and Mary. But do we do the same thing when we turn our
head the other way when we see a homeless person on the corner?
Are we so full of bubbly cheer that we don’t care or notice anything
going on around us? Or will we reach out
to the person in the corner who is crying from the loss of their spouse or child
to cancer last Christmas?
Do we shrug our shoulders when we hear how immigrants are treated
because we don’t know them? Or do we
contact our legislative representative to demand better treatment for the
stranger we don’t even know.
Will be live our lives like the people of Bethlehem; uncaring
and rejecting those we don’t know? Or
will we be like the shepherds and Magi seeking the one who brings salvation for
troubled sinful world?