Wednesday, January 2, 2019

(214) Living With the Infant Jesus in the Manger Through Images of the Holy Land


An image in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem where the shepherds have the privilege of being the first to adore the new born king.  This shows that Christ identifies himself with the poor and the Jews, the chosen people..
         Only Matthew and Luke give accounts of the birth of Christ.  Since Luke goes into great detail, he must have interviewed Mary.  Since Matthew directs his Gospel to the Jews, he often quotes Old Testament scripture that refers to Christ.  You can see that in the following account of his.  Each Gospel complements and reinforces the other.

Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.  Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly.  Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.  She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:  "Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel," which means "God is with us."  When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home (Matthew 1:18-24).  In humble obedience Joseph follows the Lord’s will.

The star under the altar of the grotto below the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem is the spot believed to be where Christ was born.

Luke goes into more detail.   In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that a census of the whole world should be taken.  The first census took place when Cyrinus 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 (Luke 2:1-7).

Nativity Church off of Manger Square in Bethlehem.

God the Father kept His promise to mankind, whom He created according to His image and likeness (Genesis 1:26).  He loves us so much that He sent His only begotten Son to become one of us in every way except sin to teach us how to live and save us from our sins so that we may have life everlasting in Heaven.  Thus every single human being has great dignity.
Therefore the birth of Christ has a central place not only in salvation history, but in world history as well… much so that our measurement of time uses His birth as a reference point……BC (Before Christ) and AD (After Christ).  Actually the calendar is not completely accurate.  Christ was born in 3 BC.  The evidence points to His being born in the Spring.  The early Church chose December 25 to coincide with the pagan feast celebrating the return of the sun as the days have more and more light.  Christ is the light of the world.

Today over 2000 years later shepherds still tend their sheep near Bethlehem.

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 Messiah and 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 men of good will"(Luke 2:8-14).

When the angels went away from them to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us."  So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger.
       When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child.  All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds.  And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.  Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them (Luke 2:15-20).  The manger is actually a feeding trough for farm animals.

We are having Mass in the Shepherds’ Cave.  Two Polish priests accompanied our group 42, Fr. Jan Czaja at the altar and Fr. Robert GÅ‚uchowski at the pulpit.  Each day we had Mass in a different holy place.  The Franciscans, as custodians provided the vestments, hosts, etc.

       At the time shepherds were looked down upon as among the lowest in society.  God shows His great love for the poor by choosing lowly shepherds to be the very first to receive the wonderful news of the long awaited Messiah’s birth.  It shows that Christ identified Himself with the Jews and also with the poor.  This gives them great dignity.
The above photo was taken from our hotel window in Bethlehem, which means in Hebrew, “House of Bread”.  In Christ’s time we could sing “O little town of Bethlehem”, but not today.  Bethlehem is a densely populated Palestinian city of about 220,000 people 6 miles south of Jerusalem.  This is a tremendous difference from what I saw on my first visit in 1962 when Bethlehem was a small town.  There were practically no buildings leading to the top of the hill.  Predominately Muslim, only 12% are Christian.  On the top of the hill is Manger Square and Nativity Church.

The photo on the right shows the wall outside of Bethlehem that the Israeli government constructed along its border with Palestine to keep terrorists from crossing over into Israel.  Arabs, who live on one side or the other and must cross over for their jobs, often spend an hour going through the checkpoint.  Palestinians and Israelis have been in conflict for almost a century.  Let us pray to the Prince of Peace for harmony in the Holy Land and peace on earth.


(50) Meditations For the Rosary I: The 3rd Joyful Mystery, The Nativity.

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