Gospel Reflection for Dec. 25, 2022, Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord

Our Advent journey has now ended. The four candles, each burning down at different lengths, are extinguished, the manger which awkwardly presents Joseph, Mary, shepherds and a few farm animals staring at an empty crib, is now filled with the long-awaited infant.

The simple toll of the bells calling the faithful to Mass at Midnight, pierces the silence and reminds us of the exaltation by the angels: “Glory to God in the highest!” The Incarnation of the Son of God, born in a most humble setting, sets the stage for the movement of that son toward the Cross. From the wood of the manger to the wood of the Cross on Calvary, Jesus bears the sins, the hopes, and the aspirations of the people of God. Christmas is more than a quaint remembrance of a birth, it is the power of God present in creation, overcoming the chaos of the world. 

The different Gospel passages that we hear, depending on which of the many Mass settings for Christmas are being used in our parishes, ring so familiar to even the casual Catholic, that their power and simplicity can be lost on us. 

Our nostalgic natures being what they are, Christmas compels us backwards, often to simpler times. We remember Christmases past, with loved ones no longer with us, perhaps in our childhood homes far away and now of distant memory. While maybe not all of our memories are warm and pleasant, they do nonetheless manage to surface now, evoked by the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of Christmas present. Yet, we are making memories for future Christmas celebrations, and the sheer joy and wonder of children at the totality of the Christmas experience offers us a sign of hope for years to come. 

Jesus was born in a manger in Bethlehem of Judea, about five miles from Jerusalem, sometime around 4BC. His Birth in a cave outside of a home, was the place where farm animals we kept, protected from the cold wintry nights. One can visit this cave in the basement shrine of the oldest continually functioning Christian Church in the world, in Bethlehem now under the Palestinian authority. The church is under joint control of both Orthodox and Catholic prelates, a reminder of the divided state of the church, even as we celebrate the arrival of the prince of peace. 

The Birth of Jesus went unnoticed as it happened, and for many the annual celebration of his birth is merely an excuse for extravagant gift giving, festive parties, and trite sentimentalities. Yet the Gospel’s which we read from on this feast: Matthew, Luke and John, are riveted and focused on the mystery of it all. The Archangel Gabriel has made the announcement to the virgin from Nazareth that she was to conceive and bear the very Son of God. Joseph has heard this same message in a dream. Mary’s older relative, Elizabeth, has also given birth to a son, although her time for childbearing is long past. Matthew connects these events to the promise made by God long ago to David and traces the lineage of this child all the way back to Abraham. This is the covenant God has forged with his people from the beginning, now being fulfilled and sealed by God himself. Luke pushes this ancestry even further as he takes us back to Adam, the first man, showing God’s promise with all of humanity, reflecting the proclamation of the Gospel now not just to the descendants of Abraham, but to all of humanity. John, while he does not tell us a traditional story of the Birth of Jesus, presents a magnificent summary of the message in his prologue. Here, from the very intention of creation, God has planned to enter into his creation through the power of the Incarnation. God walks among his people; God is with us. 

Indeed, God is with us and remains with us. We see his presence everywhere, we encounter him through the sacramental economy, share in his Passion, Death and Resurrection present to us in the Liturgy, and make him present to the world through the worlds which we perform in his name for the alleviation of suffering and the salvation of all the world.

God is indeed with us. See this in the simplicity of the manger scene, see it in the face of the child, see it brought to life in the marginalized. 

May this Christmas be a sign and source of hope for all of us, bringing peace and love to a world torn by war and hatred. 

Merry Christmas!

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.