Become the Manger of Christ

In Churches, homes, and even some civic places throughout the world, we see the beautiful, quaint, and charming manger scenes on display. Most certainly, things weren’t as pretty, neat, and clean at the time of Jesus’ birth. The uncertainties, difficulties, and stresses of it all must have been monumental, yet the Holy Family also shows us peace, perseverance, trust, faith, and hope. The beauty of the manger scene is also one where God is seen in the normal, the every-day places and events of life, among the cattle and sheep, in the city and suburb, in the stable and under the stars. Ordinary people, working people were witnesses, like the inn keeper and shepherds, and so were the exalted, the wealthy, the wise, and the angelic.

In fact, ALL OF CREATION was and is witness to the birth of its Savior, the Son of God, humbled in flesh and born as one of us. All of humanity and all of creation is “good” because the God who is Goodness itself sanctified it, touched it, and speaks it into being. This is why we are able to physically and spiritually see the very presence of God himself in creation, in His creation, in our world, and in each other. At the celebration of Christmas, we rejoice in the birth of him called “Emmanuel,” the name which means “God with us,” for he truly is and always will be.

The real gift of Christmas is Jesus. We cannot receive a gift when our arms are filled with all sorts of needless things, and we cannot receive the gift of our Savior when our hearts and lives are filled with all sorts of unnecessary clutter. So much in our lives block and hinder our ability to receive God and his grace. Let’s empty ourselves. Let’s look upon the simplicity of the nativity scene and reflect on its humility and ordinariness, so that our hearts can be transformed into the manger, the empty feeding trough, where Jesus was laid.

St. Paul reminds us that Jesus came into the world and was born to be the Sacrificial Offering for eternity. No more animal holocausts and offerings on altars to cover sins would suffice, but the Infant Jesus, the unblemished Lamb of God, would offer himself once, in an Eternal Sacrifice, his Passion, for the salvation of the world. His Blessed Mother placed her precious child in a feeding trough on that Most Holy Night. It was an act of maternal love, but, according to God’s will, it was a gesture which foretold the greatest act of love in all of salvation history, that of her son Jesus giving himself, both Body and Blood, “real food” and “real drink,” in the Eternal Sacrifice “through which we have been consecrated.” (HEB 10:10)

Being prepared for our Lord Jesus Christ, emptied of sin, attachments, and all that keeps us from God’s grace, we will be emboldened by the Holy Spirit to loudly proclaim for all the world: Rejoice and be glad! Our King has been born. Our Savior has come to set us free. Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will. May all praise, honor, and glory be to God, our Heavenly Father, for ever and ever!

Pour forth, we beseech you, O Lord, your grace into our hearts, that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ your Son was made known by the message of an Angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of his Resurrection; through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

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Elizabeth’s Faith

When Mary is told that her elder cousin Elizabeth is pregnant, she immediately leaves on a nearly 100-mile journey to Elizabeth’s home, to spend time with her and help her through several months of her pregnancy.  Mary does this, as we know, while herself pregnant. Upon the Virgin Mary’s arrival, Mary greets her cousin. We are told that “when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, ‘Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does it happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? … Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.’” (NAB, LK 1:41-43, 45)

This passage teaches much about Mary, but it also reveals the incredible faith and giftedness of Elizabeth. Four of the main characters we consistently hear about during Advent are Zechariah, Elizabeth, Joseph, and Mary. Both sets of parents are involved in miraculous births. Zechariah and Elizabeth will have John, although Elizabeth is advanced in age and had been believed to be cursed with sterility. Joseph and Mary will have Jesus, although Mary remains a virgin and Jesus was conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit. Zechariah, Joseph, and Mary are all visited by the Angel of God who announces to them the Good News of God, and reveals God’s plans regarding the births of John and Jesus.

We are not told of any angelic visitation to Elizabeth, yet she exudes confident and mature faith, and even makes profound theological statements concerning Mary and Jesus. Elizabeth has a special kind of faith, one made possible by the scandal, dishonor, disgrace, and intense scrutiny and judgment of others. We know that she lived a blameless and righteous life, but many believed that she must be cursed by God, since she was barren and without child. Interestingly, however, God would glorify and exalt what others saw as bad and shameful, and reveal to us for all time, the saintliness of Elizabeth through her humility, a humility borne out of decades of humiliation at the hands of others. Elizabeth’s humility and closeness to God gave her to prophesy about Mary, calling her “most blessed,” and Jesus, calling him “Lord.”

Heavenly Father, give me humility, the key to a virtuous life. There are no saints in heaven who did not have humility, whether it was borne out of love or humiliation. Give me perseverance to live a blameless and righteous life, so that in humility, I may see your presence and your work around me and in others. May I be like Elizabeth, who after suffering much, recognized your love and your blessing, and used them to proclaim your glory to the world. Amen.

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Persevere in Love

Luke’s Gospel presents what seems like some fairly bleak prophecy. Jesus says to his disciples, “They will seize and persecute you, they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors because of my name. … You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends, and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name….” (NAB, 21:12, 16-17)

Wow! I can’t imagine this being the first lesson we teach new Christians, yet it is so important for us to realize that the teachings of Jesus are so radical, counter to the culture, that followers will be persecuted. Jesus assures his disciples, however, that they need not prepare what to say, that he will give them the wisdom to respond to the hatred in the world. He adds, “By your perseverance you will secure your lives.” (21:19)

Perseverance is one of the forgotten virtues. It receives little attention in the pulpit, but is actually quite important in the spiritual life. Jesus is reminding us today that his teachings are radical, and to be Christian is to challenge the culture and the status quo whenever and wherever we see the love of Christ being violated. Much of what society does is dictated by good, but sin also has its hand in shaping our cultural norms and accepted behaviors. We, as Christians, are called to bring the Good News to all because of the inherent dignity of all. We are each created in the image and likeness of God, regardless of our social norms, family upbringing, political positions, or religious beliefs. Christ loves us all, and it takes true perseverance to proclaim that love to a world that seems to be constantly fighting against it.

Lord Jesus, you persevered to the end, where God’s glory was revealed through your Passion. Give me the gift of perseverance. When I feel like giving in or giving up, strengthen me with your grace to push forward in your love, so that you may be glorified by all. Amen.

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