At some point or other, we have heard the proverb: Never send a boy to do a man’s job. Unlike some proverbs, this one does not date back hundreds of years. In fact, its first known usage in print is traceable to only the last century.
The meaning of this proverb is plain enough. When a task is difficult, we don’t assign an amateur, someone who lacks strength, experience or qualifications to complete the work.
Although a proverb is a wise saying, it is not the last word on wisdom. The last word on wisdom belongs to God Whose Incarnate Son came among us as a baby.
We are all babies at the beginning. There are no exceptions to this rule. And thus the Incarnation tells us something about God’s life in space and time, and also something about our own prospects outside this world. The Incarnation is quite obviously a start to something; it also foreshadows an end, too. We would deceive ourselves if we set limits prematurely for the Incarnation. What the Incarnation does, of course, is open for us the whole drama of our salvation in Christ.
Writing to the Christians of Galatia, Saint Paul uses these words for the Incarnation: “[W]hen the fullness of time had come, God sent His Son, born of a woman.” (Gal 4:4) Saint Luke, the evangelist, provides the details of the birth. In his gospel, Luke tells us the birth took place during the reign of Caesar Augustus, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. (cf. Lk 2:1-2)
While Mary and Joseph are in Bethlehem to be enrolled for the census, Saint Luke continues, Mary “gave birth to her first-born son.” (Lk 2:7)
The virginal conception of Jesus does not mean that He could bypass a normal development and just leap forward to His public ministry. No, Jesus would advance in wisdom, age and grace before God and man. (cf. Lk 2:52) There are no shortcuts when it comes to our redemption.
The boyhood of Jesus, to which the scriptures attest during the Christmas season, sends us signals which we cannot misinterpret. The swaddling clothes which are wrapped around the body of the Infant Jesus (cf. Lk 2:7) are strips which are carried for burial in the event death occurs en route to a destination. Nor can we mistake the myrrh brought by the Magi. (cf. Matt 2:11) It prefigures the anointing of Jesus’ body after it is taken down from the Cross.
It is at the Cross that doubt about Jesus’ identity comes to a halt. A centurion confesses there, “Truly this man was the Son of God.” (Mk 15:39) How fascinating a confession for the centurion to make! For Jesus, on the Cross, has no stately bearing to make us look at him, nor appearance that would attract us to him. (cf. Is 53:2) Yet, it is the hour of His glory.
In the manger, the glory of the Lord is easier to imagine – except we don’t have to imagine it. Saint Luke records how shepherds in the fields are watching over their flock (cf. Lk 2:8) and the glory of the Lord shines around them. (cf. Lk 2:9) This is indeed a glory we can all accept. The glory of divine life is new and fresh and makes us young again.
In the Lord’s Nativity, heaven comes to earth as the angel proclaims the gospel of great joy. (cf. Lk 2:10) But short-lived this joy would be. In Salvifici Doloris, Pope John Paul II’s 1984 apostolic letter, the Holy Father refers to Jesus as the Man of Sorrows (17). Our Lord is called this because He takes upon Himself the sins of us all. (cf. Is 53:5)
When we sin, we willfully go our own way. To paraphrase the prophet Isaiah, we are like sheep who go astray, each following his own way. (cf. Is 53:6)
How providential it is then that shepherds are there when the Christ Child is born in Bethlehem. They are minding their sheep, careful that none is lost. They are the first witnesses to the one truly Good Shepherd.
Our joy tonight is in the birth of the One Who binds up our wounds, the wounds of our sins, of course. The Lord does this, we know, by laying down His life for us. (cf. Jn 10:15) The meaning of Christmas is found in laying down our lives too – generously and sacrificially.
Christmas is an invitation to all of us to lay claim once again to the redemption brought by the Christ Child. The renewal we so urgently long for begins at the manger in Bethlehem. Let us go there now if only spiritually.
The fields of Bethlehem give way, in time, to the fields of the entire world. The Lord Who never left Palestine in His earthly ministry covers the whole world as the Shepherd of our souls. He guards us from all danger, especially the danger of sin. Him we adore resting His head on the wood of the manger or writhing in pain on the wood of the Cross.
Come, let us worship!
Msgr Robert Batule
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