December 24, 2017

Reflection on the Nativity of the Lord (Christmas)

By Msgr. Bernard Bourgeois

Mass at Midnight

Isaiah 9:1-6; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14

“While [Mary and Joseph] were there, the time came for her to have her child,
and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes
and laid him in a manger, because there was no room... in the inn.” (Lk 2:7)

One of my favorite childhood memories of Christmas is sitting on the floor in front of my grandmother’s fake, silver Christmas tree, mesmerized by its changing colors every few seconds. As of yet I hadn’t noticed the spotlight on the floor with a rotating cover that was blue, red, and yellow, each color giving way to the next as the cover rotated over the spotlight illuminating the tree. I just sat there by the hour watching that tree!

Christmas was my grandmother’s favorite time of year. Among her prized possessions was her mother’s Nativity scene. I remember it sprawled out on top of her massive Zenith console television (remember those?). My great-grandmother had purchased that set at the local “five and dime,” as my grandmother called the store. Her manger scene is a great reminder to anyone who sees it that the meaning of Christmas is the birth of Jesus Christ.

In addition to its high place as a family heirloom, I love this Nativity scene. Frankly, it has seen better days. Some of the faces of the statues have worn off, there are a few broken legs and arms here and there, and all the pieces are in desperate need of a paint job. Over the years, many have offered to restore the set to its original state. I have yet to allow anyone to touch it. Why? A careful study of it gives one the true sense of Christmas.

I smile when I see modern Nativity scenes in our church buildings and homes that are so perfect ... perfectly shaped figurines ... perfectly painted and color coordinated ... in perfect settings, of course ... with perfect, adoring animals throughout. I doubt whether the actual birth of Christ was that ideal! The real story as recounted in the Gospels is of Jesus born in a manger because there was no room in the inn. Jesus was born homeless, and I am sure the manger was far from a modern, sterile birthing room in a hospital. It is highly doubtful it was clean and it was certainly open to the elements. Mary and Joseph had just traveled across the desert; it is doubtful they tidied up before Mary gave birth.

The broken pieces and chipped figurines of my inherited Nativity scene remind me that Jesus was born in the midst of the human condition of suffering, poverty, and homelessness, all part of his life at his birth. And that’s good news for us — for it means that our Savior has felt first-hand the realities of the human condition. In his suffering, poverty, and homelessness, he knows the human story. Our lives are like those figurines — chipped and broken. Into that reality God enters the world as the newborn child, Jesus. But Jesus’ story doesn’t end at that manger! His life will culminate at his death and resurrection. The cross of Good Friday and the empty tomb of Easter Sunday will be the reason for his birth. Through those events, Jesus has brought hope to the human family, reminding us that suffering and poverty will not have the final say, but light, peace, joy, and hope will. That which is chipped and broken will be fixed. And that, my friends, is the meaning of Christmas!

Merry Christmas to one and all!

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