Friday, December 24, 2010

On Recognizing and Receiving the Gift of God

He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him. (John 1:10-11)

The Gospel account of Luke tells us that Mary had to give birth to Jesus, the Son of the Most High, in, of all places, a shelter intended for animals, "because there was no room for them in the inn" (Luke 2:7). Bethlehem was apparently filled to capacity with people who, by decree of the Roman government, had returned to their hometown, in order to be registered as taxpayers. But yet, among all those people, there was not a single incidental witness to His miraculous birth there in their midst. Everyone was too busy responding to the voice of the world, to the "decree that went out from Caesar Augustus." Meanwhile, the Messiah had been humbly and silently "brought forth" by Mary, with the very people that had been longing for their King and His kingdom passing the night oblivious and unaffected.

No Room in the Inn
It was only to some shepherds tending their sheep in the area that the angel of the Lord appeared and announced that their promised Messiah had finally come. Like Mary (Luke 1:45), these simple people believed and rejoiced in what the Lord had told them through His heavenly messenger. The shepherds also made haste, "to see this thing" that had taken place, which the Lord had made known to them (Luke 2:15), as did Mary nine months prior, upon hearing the joyful news that her older childless relative Elizabeth had conceived a son (Luke 1:36-39), "for with God nothing will be impossible" (Luke 1:37).

It was clearly because of their faith in the Lord, in their openness and readiness of heart to the accepting of His Word, that the shepherds were blessed with the gifts of both receiving the news of the long-expected Messiah's birth, and of beholding Him with their own eyes. In their great joy, the shepherds then told everyone what they had heard and seen, and "all who heard it were amazed" (Luke 2:18). Like all the men and women in the entire Gospel of Luke who would approach and encounter Jesus with faith in their hearts, the shepherds were forever changed that night in a very dramatic way. They were still poor shepherds, returning to their flocks and their way of life, but now the joy-filled act of "glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them" (Luke 2:20) had also become a part of their day-to-day living.

But what about us? What is the focus of our attention at Christmas? Is it the tree and the gifts, or is it the Manger and the Eucharist? Are we indifferent to and unaffected by the birth of the Lord, or do we continue to be amazed by the mysteries of the Incarnation and God's infinite love for us?

A.R. Mengs, The Adoration of the Shepherds, 1770
Like the people in the Gospel who spent the night in the Inn, have we also perhaps returned to our own hometown to celebrate Christmas, finding ourselves resting comfortably in the company of family and friends, only to forget that there is One we have excluded from our company; that there is One we have left outside in the cold? Or are we like the humble shepherds, open to the voice and the grace of God, and eager to welcome our Savior Christ the Lord into our hearts, and at Mass, into our bodies as well? If it is His birth, His coming, that we are truly celebrating, then we, too, can be forever changed by our encounter anew with Jesus at the coming of Christmas, and after the celebration of this day and season has passed, can then return to our everyday lives, glorifying and praising God for all we have heard and seen, just as it had been told to us!

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.  
And 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 (John 1:12-14).

No comments:

Post a Comment