XXXI. The Nativity
“And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were shepherds in the same district living in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood by them and the glory of God shone round about them, and they feared exceedingly. And the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good news of ,great joy which shall be to all the people; for there has been born to you today in the town of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord’ ”
When was Christ born? –Christ was born of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Christmas Day, in Bethlehem, more than nineteen hundred years ago.
When Jesus Christ was born, the Jews were no longer independent. In 64 B.C. Pompey reduced their kingdom and subjected it to Rome.
Because the Jews were always plotting rebellion against Rome, the Jewish king was replaced by Herod, a Gentile, the first non-Jew to become king. Thus the scepter was “taken away from Juda”, and the time predicted for the Messias had arrived.
Today we reckon dates from the birth of Christ. This has been the continuous custom since the time of Charlemagne, although many rulers from the 5th century had adopted the practice.
However, there is an error of some four to six years. Generally, it is supposed, as a matter of historical fact, that Christ was born 7-5 B.C. An error in the calculation of dates in later centuries produced this anomaly.
Bethlehem is a little town in Judea, near the city of Jerusalem. Joseph and Mary went there in obedience to the Emperor at Rome, who had commanded all his subjects to register in the towns of their ancestors.
Joseph and Mary were both descended from King David, whose city was Bethlehem; this is why they went to register there. They tried to find a place to stay in even for only a night, but could find refuge nowhere. And so they sought shelter in a poor stable; there Jesus was born.
Jesus was born in a stable, a poor place. He preferred poverty and humiliation in order to suffer more for us.
He wished to show Himself a friend of the poor, and to teach that the best way to heaven is through humility, and detachment from worldly goods.
The Church celebrates the Nativity on December 25. The feast is called Christmas. On this day every priest is granted the privilege of saying three Masses: one in commemoration of Christ’s eternal birth from God the Father; another in remembrance of His temporal birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary; and a third to recall His spiritual birth in the hearts of the faithful.
The word “Christmas” comes from Christ and Mass The feast is so called because on that day the Mass commemorating the birth of Christ is said.
An angel appeared to shepherds and told them of the Nativity. A star led three Magi (Wise Men) to Bethlehem.
The shepherds represented the poor. The Magi represented the rich. All offered their gifts to the Infant Jesus. Our Lord does not look at the price of our gifts, but at the purity of our hearts.
The Church commemorates the adoration of the Magi on the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6. “Epiphany” means manifestation. In the persons of the Magi, who were not Jews, Our Lord was manifested to all nations of the earth, who were at the time lost in paganism. With the Magi, we are called to the Truth; the Old Testament was ended, and the world had entered upon a new Covenant with God. And if, like the Magi we offer Jesus Christ the gold of our love, the myrrh of self-sacrifice, and the incense of our prayers, we too shall be united with God.
Many churches and homes set up a crib at Christmas. This custom, although of very ancient origin, was popularized by St. Francis of Assisi.
In the year 1223, he visited Pope Honorius III and sought approval of his plans to make a scenic representation of the Nativity. Having obtained the Pope’s consent, Francis left Rome, and arrived at Greccio on Christmas Eve. There in the church he constructed a crib, grouping around it images of the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph, of the shepherds, the ox, and the ass. At the midnight Mass St. Francis acted as deacon. After singing the words of he Gospel, “And they laid Him in a manger” , he knelt down to meditate on the great gift of :he Incarnation. And people around saw in his arms a Child, surrounded by a most brilliant light.
Since then the devotion to the crib has spread far and wide. The crib remains in church until the octave day of the Epiphany. At the proper time the images of the Three Kings and their retinue are added, making a daily advance towards the crib.
Most homes also set up a decorated Christmas tree. It is a reminder of the tree of the cross. The boxes of Christmas gifts remind us of the great Gift that God sent us.
Santa Claus, the jolly and beloved distributor of Christmas gifts, is an American adoption of St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, of the fourth century. This Saint is popular in Germany, Switzerland, and the Netherlands, where he is made the secret purveyor of gifts to children on December 6, his feast day. The custom was brought to New York by the Dutch, quickly spread throughout the United States and became absorbed into the Christmas celebration.
What incidents in Our Lord’s life were closely connected with the Nativity? –The following incidents in Our Lord’s life were closely connected with the Nativity: the Circumcision, the Presentation, and the flight to Egypt.
The Child received the narne Jesus when He was eight days old. He was circumcised, according to the custorn of the Jews. At the Circumcision Jesus began His role of Mediator between God and man, shedding His blood for the first time for us.
“Thou shalt call his name Jesus, for He shall save his people front their sins” (Matt. 1:21). “Therefore God . . . has bestowed upon him the name that is above everv name, so that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bend, of those in heaven, on earth, and under the earth” (Phil. 2:9,10). “If you ask the Father anything in my name. he will give it to you” (John 16:23). The feast of the Circumcision is celebrated on New Year’s Day. Thus the Church teaches us to begin everything in the name of Jesus.
When Jesus was forty days old, His Mother presented Him in the Temple at Jerusalem. In imitation, though the rite is essentially different, mothers today after childbirth seek the blessing of the Church in a thanksgiving ceremony called “churching”.
The feast of the Presentation is celebrated on February 2. It is also called the purification of the Blessed Virgin, or Candlemas Day. On this day candles are blessed and carried in procession, in memory of the words of holy Simeon, when Jesus was presented in the Temple. He said Our Lord was “a Light of revelation to the Gentiles”.
Mary and Joseph took the Child Jesus to Egypt to save Him from King Herod, who wanted to kill Him.
An angel appeared to Joseph and told him to take the Child Jesus and His mother away to Egypt. They stayed in Egypt until the death of King Herod. Then an angel appeared to Joseph and bade him return to the land of the Jews.