Dawn Masses together]
The usual way in which a historical
account is put together has been said to describe:
“What Caesar did and what was done to him.” In
the Scriptures, the past is examined from a different
angle, as a record of ‘the mighty deeds the Lord
has done’: “I am the Lord who brought you out
of the land of Egypt”. All history-telling, even
us reflecting on our family’s past, is an attempt
to find meaning in human experience. Luke sets
out to tell us the life of Jesus with these attitudes
in his mind.
Although of pagan origin, St
Luke bases his account of the birth of Jesus on
the prophet Micah [5,2-5] in the Old Testament:
“O You, Bethlehem of Ephrathath, you are one of
the little towns of Judah, but out of you I will
bring a ruler for Israel, whose family line goes
back to ancient times . . .When he comes, he will
rule his people with the strength that comes from
the Lord . . . and he will bring peace.” What
intrigues Luke is that this prophecy should be
fulfilled as a result of a decree of Roman government.
God makes use of Augustus Caesar as he did of
King Cyrus who decreed the return of the Jewish
exiles from captivity in Babylon. Caesar becomes
an agent of salvation. Luke is so taken with this
idea that he may have got the name of the governor
of Syria wrong. Saturninus, rather than Quirinius,
was governor there at the time of the birth of
Jesus. Luke also pays much more attention to angels
and shepherds than to the actual birth. He does
not even tell us where the birth actually took
place, only that the child was laid in a manger.
The life of Jesus begins as it will be for him
in later life:
‘there was no room at the
inn’; ‘the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head’;
‘the King of the Jews has no throne but a cross’.
His first worshippers , the
shepherds, were despised by the orthodox because
the roaming nature of their occupation made it
difficult for them to keep the commands of the
Law, even though from flocks like theirs came
animals to be offered in sacrifice. They were
not particular about the ownership of property.
As a result they were not thought trustworthy
enough to be called as witnesses at law. So it
is the ‘outsiders’, the little ones, the rejected,
who are first to hear the three titles ‘Saviour,
Messiah (Christ), Lord’. They are the first to
The angel chorus tells of the
joy of heaven at salvation, which Our Lord will
tell us later happens over and over again when
the lost sheep is found, when one sinner repents.
The heavenly host, in biblical terms, includes
the stars which were thought to be spiritual beings,
as in the book of Job [38,7]: “The morning stars
sang together and all the sons of God shouted
for joy.” There is to be a new creation with its
promise of peace for those who ‘enjoy God’s favour’,
those in whom He is well pleased. These words
will be heard again at the baptism of Jesus: “You
are my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased,”
[Luke 3, 22] and Jesus will remind us of the little
ones “to whom [God] has been pleased to reveal
these things” [Luke 10,21]. The Promised One of
God has entered human history and things will
never be the same again. We note the contrast
between the grandeur of God’s plan and the modest
scene at Bethlehem. ‘The Word without whom was
made nothing that was made’ has become flesh.
The powerful Word spoken by the Father lies in
the manger and has to learn to speak.
Those who listen to the shepherds
wonder at what they hear. The shepherds glorify
God and return to their flocks. Mary remains and
ponders, the faithful disciple. As far as we know
the rest kept no memory of these events. Mary
alone remembers. She alone will have a role in
the future of the gospel, but she will have to
work at it, to try to make sense of it all.
• We know this event so well. We can marvel
at how simply it is told. I have so many things
to see to before Christmas. I really must make
time to sit, go through it with care, think
and marvel at the ‘mighty works of God’. Maybe
Mary would help.
• The outcasts were the first to hear of the
fulfilment of the plan. Where do I fit in? Did
God have me in mind when He set about this?
Could I be amongst those with whom He is well
pleased? What difference would that make?
• Can I accept that God is the master of history,
as shown by Caesar and Cyrus?
• How I am I at giving thanks? At praising?
God or anyone else?