Nativity of the Lord – 25 December 2016
Gospel: Luke 2:1-14
Being part of the story
St Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus that is read at the Midnight Mass of Christmas is so simple that there is a risk we could miss the deeper message. On the surface it is the story of Joseph and Mary travelling to Bethlehem because of the census, their child Jesus being born in a stable because there was no room at the inn, and the angels appearing to the shepherds in the fields and announcing the birth of the saviour. While it is true that these are the essential elements of the gospel passage, there is much more to Luke’s account than we might think.
I love the moment at Midnight Mass when this Gospel is read. For me it’s the real beginning of Christmas. After four weeks of Advent, with its themes of waiting and watching we reach the point when the waiting is over and the news of the birth of Jesus is announced. This is the moment John the Baptist was preparing the people for, this is child that Isaiah foretold, the one that Mary longed for ‘with love beyond all telling’ and now he has arrived.
But we are not just spectators or onlookers to this story. There are three parts to the Gospel passage and we need to be part of each one. The first is the journey that Joseph and Mary make from Nazareth to Bethlehem. The second is birth of a Jesus in an unusual, unexpected and far from ideal place, and the third is the apparition of the angels to the shepherds telling of the birth of Jesus. We might think that the details of this Gospel passage are very different from our own circumstances and wonder where we fit into the story, but in fact for Jesus to be born for us at Christmas we need to realise that this is our story too.
St Luke tells us that Joseph and Mary set out from the town of Nazareth, where they were living, and went to Bethlehem, and that this is where Jesus was born. They left the relative comfort and familiarity of their home, friends and acquaintances, and went on a long and difficult journey, from Galilee in the north down to Bethlehem. It seems to me that we all need to go on this journey with Joseph and Mary, perhaps from the comfort of our homes, or outside our ‘comfort zone’, to the place where Jesus will be born.
The fact that Jesus was born in a stable and had a manger as his first bed sends a clear message that there is nothing wrong with what we might consider the unusual or different aspects of our own family or circumstances. Pope Francis has reminded us in his encyclical Amoris Laetitia that God comes to us in the reality of our own situations and circumstances, not the ideals we might prefer to have. So we need to allow Jesus to be born into the reality of our lives as they are.
Thirdly, the angels announced the news of the birth of the saviour to the shepherds. The shepherds were frightened by the apparition, St Luke tells us they were terrified, but they were open to hearing the unexpected news. We need to be able to ask ourselves how ready are we to hear the news of the birth of Jesus, even if it terrifies us? We can sometimes be told in surprising ways that Jesus is to be found in places we would not expect. We need to be ready to go there and find him!
Fr Richard Purcell ocso