“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 saviour has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.” — Luke 2:10-11.
Promptly after the fall of our first parents God, in His infinite mercy, promised a Redeemer, by whose merits man would be saved from sin and the eternal punishments due to it, and also restored to his primitive right to the kingdom of heaven. But this promise God chose not to fulfil for 4,000 years. This He did in order that all mankind might become more sensible of their misery, and that they might more ardently desire the coming of the Redeemer. Those years were felt slow, and dreary, and dismal, and even dreadful by reason of the Deluge, which nearly swept away the whole human race; and, again, by reason of the lurid fire which fell upon the sinful cities of the Plain, and instantly burned all their inhabitants! During those years many a sigh and prayer was offered up for the coming of the Messiah. The ancient patriarchs and prophets prayed that the heavens would open and let down the Just One, and that the earth would open and bud forth the Saviour. In the words of Isaiah they prayed “Let justice descend, you heavens, like dew from above, like gentle rain let the clouds drop it down. Let the earth open and salvation bud forth; let righteousness spring up with them! I, the Lord, have created this” (Isaiah 45:8).
But at length the “plenitude of time” had come, the seventy weeks of years foretold by the Prophet Daniel had elapsed, the royal sceptre had passed away from the House of Judah, and “tidings of great joy were brought to all the people,” the heavens opened and flowed with honey, the long-expected Messiah came, and He was born as an infant in “Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy that shall be to all the people; for this day is born to you a Saviour, “who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David!”
The Gospel tells us the circumstances of our Saviour’s birth. Caesar Augustus was at the time Emperor of Rome and all the provinces, including Judea. He was a proud man, and, like David, he wished to number his people. And, so, he commanded that all his subjects should go to be enrolled, each into his own city. And in obedience to this decree, Joseph and Mary, his espoused wife, who was with child, set out from Nazareth to Bethlehem. The distance was ninety miles. They walked all the way on foot, and when they reached Bethlehem no one would give them lodging. “There was no room for them.” They tried everywhere about the village, but all in vain, till at length they met with an old stable in which there was an ox and an ass. And into this stable Mary and Joseph went for shelter from the cold of the night.
And it came to pass that when they were there Mary’s days of confinement were finished, and at midnight she brought forth her first-born Son, and swaddled Him in narrow bands of cloth, and laid Him in a manger. And this child was Jesus Christ, our Saviour. Consequently on the night of the nativity, approximately one thousand nine hundred and eighty-six years ago, the long-expected Messiah, the Redeemer of us all mankind, was born. And immediately the heavens burst out with joyous strain, and the angels sang with loud celestial voices: “Glory be to God on high, and on earth peace to men of good will!”
And there were shepherds out on the snowy hills of Judea that night watching their flocks. “And behold an angel of the Lord stood by them, and the brightness of God. shone round about them; and they feared with a great fear. And the angel said to them: Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy that shall be to all the people; for this day is born to you a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David!
And the shepherds went over with haste to Bethlehem, and there they found Mary and Joseph, with the Infant Saviour wrapt in swaddling-clothes, and lying in a manger! Oh! who can tell the feelings of those humble shepherds as they looked and gazed upon the new-born Babe? How His little cry thrilled through their ears, and touched their hearts to tenderest emotion! How overjoyed they must have felt as they thought that He at last had come who was to release them from the slavery of sin and the torments of hell, and who was to make them par- takers of the joys and glories of heaven! Oh, what deep feelings of homage and confidence, and gratitude and love they must have felt on that occasion! How their souls were rapt with astonishment at actually seeing “the Word made Flesh!” the immense God of heaven narrowed within the compass of a little Babe! Indeed, well might they have exclaimed: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways!” (Romans 11:33).
But observe the striking features in the circumstances of His birth. He is born in the middle of the night, in a cold, comfortless stable, and He appears first of all (if we except His Mother and St. Joseph) to humble, poor shepherds. Did these circumstances happen by mere chance, or was there a meaning in them? Why is He not born in some one of the gorgeous palaces of the earth, in the midst of riches and comforts? Why did our Lord select a stable as the place of His birth? It was in order to confound the pride of the world. It was in order to cure the haughty and the proud-hearted. It was in order to reduce the honours and distinctions of this world to nought. It was in order to lessen the boasting of the high-born, and to make humility appear at once honourable and beautiful, by leading the way in His own Royal Person. “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,” He says in His first lesson, “for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves.” (Matthew 11:29). He was born in poverty, in order to teach us detachment from the things of the world. He honoured poor shepherds with His first dialogue, and He said for the comfort of the humble poor, and of the rich also who are poor in spirit: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3).
Let us ask of Jesus to-day to give us grace to learn the great lesson which He has come to teach, to be “meek and humble of heart.” Let us ask of Him today, as a birthday present, the grace whereby we may tarry on vigorously the great work of our salvation which He has so lovingly begun, that we may renounce all pride, and vanity, and self-seeking, that we may seek Him who through His ministers forgives the sinner in the tribunal of Confession, that we may adore and worthily receive Him who resides in the Blessed Sacrament, who was born as a sweet little newborn at Bethlehem, and whose birth is celebrated with universal joy throughout all Christendom today. “I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a saviour has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord!” (Luke 2:10-11)