December 19, 2017

Waiting for the Messiah, Then and Now

Joseph and Mary in Bethlehem

Father Michael J. Woolley

(From a homily delivered in December 2005)

Late in the afternoon that first Christmas eve, a man could be seen walking in front of a donkey, coming from the north on the road leading into the city. Passing by a field of shepherds with their sheep, this man, whose name was Joseph, led his donkey through the gates of the city of Bethlehem, to look for a place to stay the night.

Riding atop the donkey was Joseph’s young wife, whom he had married a little less than a year ago, whose name was Miryam, a name meaning “the perfect and beautiful one”.

Also riding on that donkey behind Joseph, in the virgin womb of His mother, was Joseph’s unborn Son by adoption, who He was to name Jesus.

Jesus came riding into Bethlehem on a donkey, just as he was to go riding into Jerusalem on a donkey 33 years later.

But what was Joseph, and his nine-month’s pregnant wife and child, and his donkey, doing there? Why did Joseph saddle up his donkey and journey 75 miles from his home in Nazareth in the cold of winter?

St. Luke tells us why… "In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled." This was the first enrollment.

A census was to be taken; the Roman Emperor wanted every man, woman and child in his Empire to be counted and enrolled in his census book, according to their ancestral home, (which in Joseph’s case was Bethlehem).

To ensure full participation, an army of census takers were employed in every town and village, and there were severe penalties if you were caught not getting enrolled.

But that stiff fine or threat of imprisonment wasn’t what gave Joseph the motivation to walk those 75 miles.

As he walked, and as Mary rode, along those long rough roads leading down to Bethlehem, they were thinking not about the enrollment newly decreed by the earthly Caesar Augustus, ruler of the Roman Empire;

No, they were thinking only about the enrollment newly decreed by the Heavenly Caesar Augustus, Almighty God, the ruler of all Empires, and Peoples, and Ages Past, Present and Future.

For in those days, a decree went out from this Caesar Augustus, from God Almighty, that the whole world should be enrolled.

God in those days wished to enroll not just everyone currently living in the Roman Empire, but every man, woman and child who had ever lived in any Empire, and even those who would one day live after those days, beginning His enrollment with Adam and Eve, and continuing down through the centuries, our 21st century included, and ending the enrollment with the last generation of men to be born at the end of time.

This was the First Enrollment Luke rightly says. All Nations, not just the Israelites, were now to be enrolled for the First Time in History, and their names written in an Enrollment Book which God the Father was to give to His Son that first Christmas.

On the first page of that book was written: “To my dear and only-begotten Son, from your beloved Eternal Father, given to you on the Night you came forth from your Mother’s womb. In this book are the names of all the people I sent you into the world for.

“Go to them, call each one of them by name to follow after you, lay down your life, my Son, for each one of these people I have enrolled in this Book I am giving you Today.”

And just as Caesar Augustus had his army of census workers to do his enrollment for him, Almighty God had His Army of Angels to do His enrollment.

And as counting every human being ever created is a massive undertaking, God therefore must have employed every Angel He had in His service to do the job – including your Angel, the one God has assigned to guard you throughout your life.

Your Guardian Angel and mine were most probably among that multitude of Heavenly Hosts singing to those Shepherds that first Christmas night:

Gloria in Excelsis Deo – Glory to God in the Highest and on earth Peace to men of Good Will!”

Let us then, whose names are written in that First Enrollment, go with the Shepherds and with our Guardian Angel this night to Bethlehem, and kneel before that Manger.

The Babe who lies there even now has that Enrollment Book memorized, even now from the Manger He calls us by name, and knows us, and loves us with His Most Sacred Heart.

And See! as you kneel there, how His Mother Mary takes Him in her arms out of the Manger, and turns to you and says “He wants you to hold Him. Don’t be afraid.”

His Mother, and St. Joseph, and God His Heavenly Father all want you to, and He most of all wants so much you and me, to take Him in our arms, and hold Him close to our Hearts, and believe with all our heart and soul and mind and strength that He alone is fully God and fully Man, born to us in Bethlehem this Night.

So may you and I be then found worthy, to have our names enrolled and written in the Book of Life, which will be the Second Enrollment, very soon to be decreed in those Last Days, by God the Father, the Most August Emperor of Heaven and Earth.

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