Gospel for Monday, Dec. 25: Luke 2:1-14
Christmas of the Lord
“1In those days a decree of Caesar Augustus ordered that a census be taken of the whole land. 2This first census was taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3Everyone went to be counted, each in his own city. 4Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea to the city of David called Bethlehem: for he belonged to the house and family of David. 5He was to be counted together with Mary, his bride, who was with child. 6While they were there, the days of childbirth were fulfilled for her. 7She gave birth to her firstborn son, wrapped him in swaddling clothes and placed him in a manger, for there was no room for them in the lodging. 8There were some shepherds in that region who, sleeping in the open, kept watch all night by guarding their flock. 9An angel of the Lord came to them, and the glory of the Lord shrouded them in light. They were seized with great fear, 10but the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid: behold, I announce to you great joy, which will be to all the people: 11Today in the city of David a Savior has been born to you, who is Christ the Lord. 12This is the sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” 13And immediately there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men, whom he loves.”
Dear Sisters and Brothers of the Misericordie, I am Carlo Miglietta, doctor, biblical scholar, layman, husband, father and grandfather (www.buonabibbiaatutti.it). Also today I share with you a short meditation thought on the Gospel, with special reference to the theme of mercy.
At the heart of our Faith
When we recite the Creed at Mass, it is traditional to bow our heads when it is said:
“For us men and for our salvation He came down from heaven ,
and by the Holy Spirit
became incarnate in the womb of the Virgin Mary
and became man.”
We are indeed at the heart of our Faith: we proclaim that God, the immense, the eternal, infinite, became creature, mortal, limited.
The “Gospels of Infancy,” theological texts
Let us try to meditate on this shocking Good News starting from the Gospel texts, stripping them of so much popular tradition to seek the core of revelation.
First of all, the Gospel texts on Christmas are post-Easter reflections, made in the light of Jesus’ death and resurrection: they are therefore essentially theological meditations, meant to introduce us to the most beautiful Mystery in history.
The earliest evangelist, Mark, does not mention Jesus’ birth at all, and presents him already as an adult at the time of his baptism by John the Baptist (Mark 1:9-11). The most recent evangelist, John, offers, in the Prologue of his Gospel, a splendid theological reading on the coming of the Word of God into the world, but without mentioning any details about his birth (Jn 1:14).
Only Matthew and Luke, in those chapters that have been called the “Infancy Gospels” (Mt 1-2; Lk 1.2) narrate the birth of Jesus.
But they tell us nothing about his date of birth. Luke states that shepherds, “sleeping in the open air, kept watch all night by guarding their flock” (Luke 2:8). In Bethlehem, on the edge of the desert, nearly eight hundred meters above sea level, it is only possible in the summer months to stay overnight in the open air, because it is too cold in winter…
Luke insists that Jesus was “laid in a manger” (Luke 2:7-12), and indeed this will be his sign of recognition (Luke 2:12), Matthew 2:11 tells us that Jesus was born in a house…
Only tradition will tell us about the “holy midnight,” the ox and donkey, the comet, the number of magi who came to worship the Child (who said there were three and no more?)…
“And the Word became flesh” (Jn. 1:14).
What the evangelists intend to convey to us is that the baby Jesus was truly what his name meant, “Jeshu’a,” “The Lord saves,” that is, the “Savior” (Mt. 1:21, 25), and he was “the true light, the one who enlightens every man” (Jn. 1:9).
“God, tired of not being understood, of being misunderstood, of being used, tired of being brought up to cover the shameful nakedness of our laziness, exhausted from being pulled by the jacket to bless every war, depressed at being accused of faults he does not have, decides to become a man, to share in all our humanity, to tell his own story. A simple, crazy, inconceivable gesture of love: God becomes man, abandons his divinity. He forgets his omnipotence, to experience all the pain that man experiences and the fragility and lurching. And so that no one can accuse God of becoming man in a privileged way, he chooses to become man in the poorest of ways, in the most miserable of times, entrusted to the inexperience of a generous provincial couple, an exile, forced to be born in an unknown place because of the delusion of omnipotence of an oppressive Emperor. The Word of God, the smile of the Trinity, inhabits the body of Mary’s son” (Fr. Curtaz).
Welcomed by the most despised
“But the Savior’s birth is received only by those who feel the need for salvation. In Luke it is the shepherds (“A Savior is born for you,” Lk. 2:11) considered to belong to the most despised and marginalized categories, and in Matthew it is the magi (Mt. 2:1-12), abominable people not only because they are pagans, but because they are devoted to an activity strictly forbidden in the Bible (Lv. 19:26; Acts 8:9-24) and forbidden to the Jews: ‘Whoever learns anything from a magician deserves death’ (Shab. b. 75a). The good news of Christmas is for these. God in Jesus manifests Himself as a Lord who is not good, but exclusively good, a Father who loves His children not because they deserve it, but because He is good” (A. Maggi).
Christmas, “sadness and hope” (Pope Francis)
“Let us be challenged by the Child in the manger, but let us also be challenged by the children who, today, are not nestled in a cradle and caressed by the affection of a mother and father, but lie in the squalid ‘mangers of dignity’: in the underground shelter to escape bombings, on the sidewalk of a big city, in the bottom of a boat overloaded with migrants. Let us be challenged by the children who are not allowed to be born, those who cry because no one satiates their hunger, those who hold not toys but weapons in their hands.
The mystery of Christmas, which is light and joy, interpellates and shakes, because it is at the same time a mystery of hope and sadness. It carries with it a taste of sadness, in that love is not accepted, life is discarded. So it happened to Joseph and Mary, who found the doors closed and laid Jesus in a manger, “because there was no room for them in the lodging” (Lk. 2:7). Jesus was born rejected by some and to the indifference of most. Today, too, there can be the same indifference, when Christmas becomes a celebration where the protagonists are us instead of Him; when the lights of commerce cast God’s light into the shadows; when we pine for gifts and remain insensitive to those who are marginalized. This worldliness has taken Christmas hostage from us: it needs to be liberated!
But Christmas especially has a flavor of hope because, despite our darkness, God’s light shines. His gentle light is not frightening; God, in love with us, draws us with his tenderness, being born poor and frail among us, as one of us. He is born in Bethlehem, which means “house of bread.” He thus seems to want to tell us that he is born as bread for us; he comes to life to give us his life; he comes into our world to bring us his love. He does not come to devour and command, but to nourish and serve. So there is a direct thread connecting the manger and the cross, where Jesus will be broken bread: it is the direct thread of love that gives itself and saves us, that gives light to our lives, peace to our hearts.
This was understood on that night by the shepherds, who were among the outcasts at that time. But no one is marginalized in God’s eyes, and they were the very ones invited for Christmas. Those who were self-confident, self-sufficient, stayed at home among their things; the shepherds, on the other hand, ‘went, without delay’ (Luke 2:16)” (Pope Francis).
Happy Mercy to all!
Anyone who would like to read a more complete exegesis of the text, or some insights, please ask me at email@example.com.