Thought for the Month
By all accounts (narrated only in the Synoptic Gospels) the birth of Jesus is an event revealed only to a select group of people. When we put together the birth narratives we will find that those who are recipients of this birth are the poor shepherds and the Wise Men in addition to St. Joseph and St. Mary. As such it must be seen as an event that received scant attention and by and large the general public is exempt from this revelation. This is one of the reasons that the Eastern Orthodox Churches prefer to celebrate the appearance of Jesus at His baptism (Epiphany) rather than the Christmas. For, at His baptism the declaration of Jesus’ identity was clearly made public.
Why only this restricted announcement? Even with the angelic hosts announcing the event only the shepherds become aware of the significance of the child born in a stable in Bethlehem; St. Luke does not indicate that anyone else became aware of this announcement. We also have to ask why only the Wise Men in St. Matthew’s gospel? Were there no other persons who qualified for this revelation? The answer to these questions lie in the fact that these two categories of people alone met the condition who found favour with God as the angels pronounced. The shepherds were poor in spirit, which meant that their economic and social situations left them with no other support other than God. They could not avail of the subverting influence of gold or silver or political and social clout to gain a privileged positions. Their only hope was in God alone. Similarly the Wise Men sought to meet the great God who would alter the destiny of humankind and nations. They were not mesmerised by the glow of the star or of the lure of worldly wisdom. They sought the One God, and that One God alone. It is probably for these reasons that they alone were able to perceive the greatness of Jesus’ humble birth.
As we celebrate the Christmas with its joy and revelry it would be appropriate to ask ourselves if we own the necessary characteristics displayed by these two groups. Is our life based on God alone or does God come as a footnote to our power and prestige? What is it that we seek after during this Christmas season? Another fat bonus that swells our accumulated financial resources or the many gifts that provide us with fleeting joy? Let us be aware of the fact that even though the first coming of Jesus was announced to a restricted few, His Second Coming will be universally visible. And when we are called to account before our Lord and King, certainly to characteristics He will seek in us will be our complete faith in Him alone and that we have surrendered ourselves totally, body, mind and soul to Him. We have to also keep in mind the fact that at that juncture we will not have the option of either rejecting or accepting Jesus Christ.
For a moment let us imagine the scene around the crib. The birth of Jesus had the additional benefit of integrating all of creation. In addition to the Holy Family there are the angels, the Wise Men, the shepherds and the cattle. While such a scene is not found represented in the gospels it is nonetheless a familiar Christmas card picture. It certainly carries a message. Do our celebrations and services serve to unite all creation or are we isolated in commemorating the birth of Christ within our own preferred circles. The integration of all creation is an intrinsic part of the theology of the Eastern Church, yet another reason why it prefers the celebration of the baptism of Jesus as opposed to the Christmas. However, in this season of Christmas let us try to include all within the circle of our joy and happiness. Let us announce the divine birth to all so that all creation can join in the joyful celebration of our God becoming human so that we could become transformed into His likeness.
I wish you all a blessed Christmas and a joyful New Year!