IN those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town. And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.
While they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn.
Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear. The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”
And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the angels, the shepherds, the innkeeper, the animals, and the Magi–these are the familiar characters of the Christmas story, comprising the usual nativity scene that decorates our churches, homes, buildings, and shopping malls during this season.
One thing is common to these characters represented in the beautiful Christmas manger–they all say “Yes.”
Jesus says yes to the divine plan for the world’s salvation. He is the Word who becomes flesh and makes his dwelling among men and women (cf Jn 1:14). He comes into the world declaring, “Behold, I come to do your will, O God” (Heb 10:7, 9).
Mary speaks her fiat to the awesome responsibility of bearing in her womb the Son of God: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38). As Pope John Paul II puts it, “Mary guides us towards Bethlehem. Mary is the woman of the ‘yes’ who, contrary to Eve, makes the plan of God her own without reservation.”
Putting aside his plans for a quiet married life and family, Joseph says yes to be the spouse of Mary and the legal father of God’s Son, giving the child a name: Jesus, son of David, from whose house the Messiah is to come.
The Letter to the Hebrews declares that when God “leads the firstborn into the world, he says: ‘Let all the angels of God worship him’ ” (Heb 1:6). The angels say yes, announcing to shepherds the birth of a Savior “who is Christ and Lord,” praising God, and singing, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Lk 2:10-11, 13-14).
In the fields keeping watch over their flocks, the shepherds receive the good news from the angel and say yes, telling one another, “Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us” (Lk 2:15).
There is no room for the Holy Family in the inn (cf Lk 2:7). The innkeeper and his family, however, clean out the barn or the stable and in so doing say yes to Jesus.
Mary lays Jesus in a manger. The cattle lowing and the sheep and goats bleating in the stable—they say yes, giving up their spot at the manger where their meal of hay is waiting in order to provide a bed for the newborn Child.
After spotting a bright star in the sky inviting them, the Magi say yes, journeying from the East to pay homage to the newborn King of the Jews.
All these nativity characters bring us the good news: to receive the gift of Christmas, all we need to do is to say yes to Jesus.
The study of theology and Scriptures can sometimes give us the impression that Christian faith is very complicated. Indeed, after 2,000 years of reflection and celebration, the incarnation or God-becoming-man remains a mystery. Christmas is so familiar, yet so full of questions: Why Mary and Joseph? Why the angels and the shepherds? Why the Magi and Bethlehem? These queries, and many more, echo that famous couplet written by British journalist William Norman Ewer: “How odd of God to choose the Jews!”
Yet, we seek a much simpler faith–a faith that speaks plainly to us people who need a Savior in our lives, who have been hurt by life and need to be healed, who are trying to raise children and grandchildren in a challenging world, who have lost loved ones and need to find a way to go on, who have sinned and need to be forgiven, and who have lost our way through life and need to be found.
The familiar characters of Christmas suggest that this faith is God’s gift that is received by saying yes to Jesus—yes to his love and compassion, his forgiveness and mercy, his presence and friendship, his new beginning and new way of living, his kingdom of justice and peace and life beyond death.
Let us say yes to Jesus tonight and every day of our lives.
A blessed Christmas to us all!
– Fr. Apolinar A. Castor Jr., SSP
– (Dec. 25, 2016)