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 vacancy.”
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 a manger.”
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 crucified.
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?