Grace: To ask for the grace to know and experience the Lord and the people, places, sounds, and smells surrounding His birth, so that I might follow Him more closely
Text for Prayer: Luke 2: 1-20
Reflection: Our images of the Nativity are often colored today by idyllic manger scenes set up during the Christmas season, Mary and Joseph looking at the infant Jesus, lying in the manger, surrounded by a whole host of farm animals. Shepherds march in dutifully from one side of the manger scene, bearing their lambs on their shoulders, while the three Wise Men come in from the other side with their gifts, the first one already kneeling and opening up his treasure. Somewhere, off in the corner, stands an angel, in his hands a sign that says “Gloria in Excelsis Deo”…
These scenes can certainly help us enter into the mystery that is the Incarnation and the birth of Christ, but they are far from an accurate depiction of the events as they took place. St. Ignatius, in the Spiritual Exercises, invites us to take these idyllic depictions and go a step further, to see Mary, Joseph, and those present at the manger after the birth of Christ, and to look at them and serve them in their needs “with all possible respect and reverence” as if we were ourselves present, in order to draw some profit (Annotation 114).
To enter into the scene, there is no better place to start than the Gospel and Luke, which begins by reminding us of the journey of Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem. One can only imagine the difficulty of such a journey for these expectant parents, further exacerbated by the fact that when they arrived at their destination, “there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7). The young mother had to give birth to her first child amongst farm animals. She was in an unfamiliar place, away from her family and friends. There, surrounded by the odors and sounds that inhabit a dwelling for animals, she gave birth to her son, the Son of God, who entered into this world as any other human being.
In Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict writes that there is much to reflect on the fact that there was no room for Mary and Joseph in the inn. Right from the beginning of his life, Jesus is a sign of contradictions and represents a “reversal of values.” From the moment of his birth, the Son of God is to be a marginal figure, even though he is a king. He is outside of the influential circles of power, even though he is the most powerful. To be a follower of this king, therefore requires that we “leave behind what everyone else thinks and wants, the prevailing standards, in order to enter the light of our true being, and aided by that light to find the right path.”
The shepherds, the outcasts of society who happen to be in the right place at the right time, are the first to receive the news about the birth of this marginal figure. Aside from His parents, they are the first to step into the light surrounding His birth. The Magi, or Wise Men, ever in search of wisdom, guided by the light of a star, travel a great distance to adore this marginal figure, and upon finding Him, are filled with joy. This new king is to be the king of all, at home with the poor and marginalized and the aspiration of all seeking the truth.
Where is it that we can begin to find ourselves in this story? At one time or another, we have probably felt ignored and found ourselves looking for answers among what Pope Benedict calls the “prevailing standards” of our times. The baby at the center of the Nativity story, Jesus Christ, shows us what it truly means to be human and what really matters in the eyes of God, for He is God’s Son. As we place ourselves in the story of the Nativity, we turn first to those who were present and realized that God is the friend of the poor and the outcast and that to find true wisdom, one must look to God first. In conversing with those present at the Nativity and by placing ourselves in their stories, we come to better understand what it means to follow Christ.
Questions: Who do you most associate with in the story of the Nativity? What actions do you take upon seeing Mary and Joseph on the way to Bethlehem, desperately trying to find a place to stay so that Mary can have her child? What do you say to them? How can you best serve them in their hour of need? How do they react at the visit of the shepherds? How do they react at the visit of the Magi? How do you react and what words do you share with Mary, Joseph, and those who come to see them?