For many people, Christmas is the most important feast of the year. It is not simply the tradition of family gatherings and gift giving. There is something very touching about the picture that St. Luke paints for us that we try to capture in our Christmas scenes each year. The idea of a young couple being refused hospitality, of a mother having to place her baby in a feeding trough for animals rather than being surrounded by family and friends cannot but touch our hearts.
What makes the story even more touching is that this is not any little baby, but God himself come to live among us. Each Christmas gives us the opportunity to appreciate more fully the meaning of this mystery of God’s love for his people. The gospel reading shows us Mary lost in silent awe and wonder at the great things God has done for his people. It also notes that the shepherds praised and glorified God when they saw Jesus in the manger. We should do the same.
There is much deeper symbolism in Luke’s account than most people recognize. The shepherds had been told to look for a baby wrapped in swaddling bands and lying in a manger. That manger is mentioned three times in the Christmas story. Luke wants us to realize that this was the real sign to look for. After all, every baby was swaddled in those days; they were not put in feeding troughs. There is something deeply symbolic about the manger that Luke wants us to understand.
We are used to hearing that there was no room for Mary and Joseph in the “inn.” The New Jerusalem Bible translates this word much more literally as there being no room in the “living space” of Bethlehem. The word used here is used only one more time in Luke’s gospel. It is the “upper room” where Jesus celebrated the Last Supper. The hospitality and welcome that was denied Jesus in Bethlehem Jesus himself now offers to his disciples—and to all of us who can join together at Jesus’ table at Mass.
Jesus may have been laid in a place where animals are fed. Luke invites us to reflect that Jesus himself will one-day feed all of us with his own flesh and blood. There may have been no hospitality for Jesus in Bethlehem; Jesus, however, will offer God’s own hospitality to his followers down through the ages, especially when we celebrate the Eucharist.
One can see why this feast has special meaning for us as members of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament. Since we were founded to see all of reality in the light of the Eucharist, the Christmas mystery reminds us of how Jesus nourishes us through the ages with his very self. From the beginning of his earthly existence, his life was geared to his becoming our living bread come down from heaven.
The sad part of the Christmas story is that the people of Bethlehem did not appreciate this. They refused the offer of grace and love that was God himself. In our own day many do not appreciate or thank God for his blessings. The chief way we thank God today is the generosity that we can show to others and to the church. Contributions that you make to Saint Ann’s Shrine and the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament are one way of thanking God for the blessings of his love. It is also a way of helping us to continue the ministry for which our congregation was founded and to which we give our lives.
God love you all.
*It is with deep sadness that we share the news of longtime Saint Ann Shrine volunteer Helen Delguyd’s passing. Helen was a wonderful woman who was a passionate supporter of Saint Ann. Please keep Helen and her family in your prayers.