|A painting by Corregio
of the Nativity with the shepherds. Corregio
so beautifully shows the warmth|
and love of Mary as the Mother of God and our mother as well, given to us by Christ Himself on the
Cross (John 19:27), the supreme sacrifice that saved us from our sins and opened the gates of Heaven
Since the star first appeared on Christmas day, the Magi studied and prepared for the long arduous
journey and are on their way from Arabia to pay homage to the Christ child while the poor shepherds,
invited by a host of angels, were the first to arrive and adore Him a few hours after the Redeemer’s
birth. Above is the Journey of the Magi by Tissot. During the Middle Ages up to the Renaissance
the Christian culture in Europe produced a proliferation of art that depicted images inspired by
the Bible. Stained glass windows in churches and paintings were also used as teaching aids in
catechizing and inspiring illiterate people with the true, the good, and the beautiful. Today most
European countries are very secular. These two paintings demonstrate that the Son of God came for
both Jew and gentile, rich and poor, educated and illiterate.
The birth of Christ was an obscure event that no one knew at the time except for a few poor shepherds and a group of wise men from the East. Yet this event was so momentous that it changed history…….even dividing the measurement of historical and current time into B.C. (years before Christ) and A.D. (years after Christ’s birth). Actually scholars believe that the actual birth occurred in 3-4 B.C. It was a central event in the history of mankind. Magnificent churches and exquisite works of art pay tribute to Him. Why did the Nativity have such great significance and importance in both world history and salvation history? We have to go back to Adam and Eve in Genesis 2 & 3 as a starting point for understanding why.
The Garden of Eden. God intended that each person occupy Paradise for a period of time as a test and preparation for Heaven; then at death there would be a seamless transition to Heaven. God clearly forbade Adam and Eve to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. According to St. Pope John Paul II, the Lord used that tree as a test of obedience and to show He is God and they are creatures. God warned Adam and Eve that disobedience would mean death. However, the serpent said to Eve “No, you shall not die; for God knows that when you eat of it, your eyes will be open and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” They did eat of the apple and God expelled them from Paradise.
Adam and Eve had a close and special relationship with God and direct communication with Him. Thus giving in to the serpent’s temptation was a betrayal. What made their sin even more grave was that they did not believe God, but believed the devil (Do we do the same?); they did not trust God; they wanted to be like God, (i.e., little gods). They were not satisfied to be created according to His image and likeness. They doubted God’s word that they would die by eating the fruit, looking upon Him as a liar. They said no to God; they rejected Him; they turned away from their Creator and what is right. That defines serious sin. It was blatant disobedience, a direct affront against God.
An image of Adam and Eve being evicted…….described in the epic poem, “Paradise Lost” in blank verse by the 17th-century English poet John Milton (1608–1674).
As a result, the gates of Heaven were closed. By inheritance and association as descendants of Adam and Eve, every person (except Mary and her Son) is conceived with a stigma as a member of the human family. This we call Original Sin which causes a separation from God and a tendency to sin (concupiscence)…….Adam and Eve’s legacy to us.
However, in His mercy God left humanity with hope. He promised to send a Redeemer…….“I will put enmity between you (the serpent) and the woman (Mary), between your offspring and hers; He (Christ) will strike at your head while you strike at his heel” (Gen 3:15). Only the Son of God could make reparation for the great sin of Adam and Eve and the sins of their descendants in order to open the gates of Heaven for humanity if we repent and follow Him.
The 4000 Year Wait. During that time fallen man in a fallen world groped in the dark. “In the sweat of thy brow, you shall eat bread” (Genesis 3:19). and child bearing would be painful. Earth was a dark place. Only the Jews believed in the one true God; the rest practiced some form of idol worship. There was human sacrifice to these false gods, who often were demons. Even the Romans placed little value upon human life. If a Roman woman did not want her infant baby, she would simply trash him or her. Later Christians buried many of them with dignity as they do today with abandoned aborted babies.
The Promise of the Old Testament. Even God’s chosen people, the Jews often fell into corruption, sin, and some idol worship. God raised up prophets, who often prophesized the coming of the Redeemer, particularly Isaiah, Zechariah, Jeremiah, Zephaniah, Malachi, David, and Nathan. He was to be born of a virgin in Bethlehem in the line of David (from Abraham to St. Joseph in Matthew 1:1-17). Mankind waited 4000 years for God to fulfill His promise. During Advent we try to relive those 4000 years of salvation history. Each Sunday symbolizes 1000 years as we wait with joyful anticipation for Christmas, preparing our hearts for the Savior’s coming by extra prayer, spiritual reading, and sacrifice as well as an Advent Confession. Do more reading of the Bible……..the most read book of all time
The Fulfillment of the Promise in the New Testament. The sin of Adam and Eve was so grave that only the Son of God, the King of the Universe could make adequate satisfaction and reparation for that most grievous sin and all sins past, present, and future by sacrificing Himself and thus open the gates of Heaven for us. This bloody sacrifice on the cross as well as the unbloody sacrifice of the Mass that makes Calvary present are sources of much grace that saves us from our sins. The Redemption made the sacraments possible as fountains of grace and freedom from the bondage of sin if we accept and follow Christ. “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life” (John 3:16). That was His greatest gift, the ultimate gift out of infinite love, for which we should be eternally grateful.
The Annunciation by Leonardo Da Vinci
In the fullness of time, God sent the Archangel Gabriel to make a startling announcement to a simple 14 year old virgin. God asked Mary to be the vehicle in bringing Christ to us in her womb. In Luke 1:38 Mary gave her fiat or YES (“Be it done to me according to thy word”) and at that moment Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin. “The word was made flesh and He dwelt among us!” (John 1:14).
An icon of the Visitation of Mary to St. Elizabeth
For the next 9 months He dwelled in the womb of Mary, the same as we dwelled in the wombs of our mothers, giving women special dignity. That makes the womb of every woman a sacred place, intended to be a secure dwelling of a beautiful human being…….not to be violated and defiled by abortion. When Mary visited her cousin, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaped for joy at the coming of the Savior (Luke 1:44), showing that in utero the unborn has a certain sensitivity to what’s going on outside, a beautiful testimony for life in the womb. See the Appendix for the beautiful canticle that Mary shared with Elizabeth, the “Magnificat”. It links the Old and the New Testaments together.
The second person of the Holy Trinity became the God-man, visible as one of us. That makes it easier for us to identify with Him and imitate Christ as advocated by St. Thomas à Kempis in his book, “The Imitation of Christ”. Christ’s taking on our human nature gives us tremendous dignity from the womb to the tomb to eternity.
The Son of God, the almighty King of the Universe, stooped down with infinite humility to become one of us, first as a helpless baby dependent upon Mary and Joseph, experiencing the common hardships of daily life. God sent a chorus of angels to make the joyful announcement to the poor shepherds. They were the first to come and adore Him, demonstrating that Christ humbly identifies Himself with the Jews, the poor, and the illiterate.
At the same time God was leading a caravan of Magi by means of a celestial phenomenon as prophesized in Numbers 24:17, either the convergence of three planets, a super nova, a comet, or an angel. In any event it was a visible manifestation of the divine majesty……..showing that Christ also came to redeem the gentiles, the affluent, and the educated. May the Muslims of the Middle East follow the Magi to Christ and the Church. May the Eucharist transform us as visiting the Christ child transformed them. In addition the Church He founded was to have a tremendous affect upon civilization (See Thomas E. Woods’ “How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization”).
Jesus grew in “wisdom and age and favor before God and man” (Luke 2:52)” and finally at the age of 30 was ready to begin His great mission, the reason for the incarnation, to teach us how to live and save us from our sins with His ultimate sacrifice with immense suffering on the cross. That’s why the birth of Christ (Christmas) is so important and significant. Finally, the 4000 year long wait for the Redeemer is over. The Old Testament is full of prophecies of the Redeemer and the New Testament is the fulfillment. Emmanuel (God with us) has come! Rejoice! Alleluia! Messianic Jews rejoice; Orthodox Jews are still waiting. And don’t forget; He is also with us in the Eucharist.
May you receive many blessings, joy, and inner peace that only God can bring. May Christmas bring you healing and reconciliation in your relationships. May it be full of hope and gladness. Merry Christmas, NOT Happy Holidays. Let’s not forget the reason for the season. PUT CHRIST BACK INTO CHRISTMAS…….in your home, on the job, in the community, and in all of your relationships.
“Let the saint rejoice as he sees the palm of victory at hand.
Let the sinner be glad as he receives the offer of forgiveness.
Let the pagan take courage as he is summoned to eternal life.”
The Prayer Of Mary
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children forever.
Magnificat anima mea Dominum;
Et exultavit spiritus meus in Deo salutari meo,
Quia respexit humilitatem ancillae suae; ecce enim ex hoc beatam me dicent omnes generationes.
Quia fecit mihi magna qui potens est, et sanctum nomen ejus, Et misericordia ejus a progenie in progenies timentibus eum.
Fecit potentiam brachio suo;
Dispersit superbos mente cordis sui.
Deposuit potentes de sede, et exaltavit humiles.
Esurientes implevit bonis, et divites dimisit inanes.
Sucepit Israel, puerum suum, recordatus misericordiae suae, Sicut locutus est ad patres nostros, Abraham et semeni ejus in saecula.