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 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 those on whom his favor rests.”
Lying in a Manger
Picture the most magnificent nativity scene you have ever seen, perhaps it is in your home, at church, or in a great basilica. These creches are displayed in many prominent places to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Certainly, this is a good tradition. Yet these beautiful Nativity Christmas scenes, Nativity Christmas tree ornaments, and Nativity Christmas plays can obscure the fact that our Lord was born in abject poverty. The King of kings and Lord of lords could have come into the world any way he wanted, yet he came humbly as a little child lying in a manger.
Christmas was anything but perfect for Mary and Joseph. They traveled from their hometown of Nazareth to the city of Bethlehem to participate in the mandatory public census. They had to return to Bethlehem because Joseph was from the tribe of Judah, a descendant of David. They did all this, even with Mary nine months pregnant, in order to be obedient to civil law. When they arrived, Mary and Joseph were not welcome in Bethlehem. Don’t let our happy holiday celebrations fool you; Christmas would have been a trying time for the Holy Family, since they were poor, alone, cold, and homeless.
It was under these difficult conditions that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. This was all part of God’s plan. Do you know what Bethlehem literally means? In Hebrew, it means, “House of Bread.” Now today we see Jesus, the “Bread of Life” (John 6:35), born in a manger, the place where animals feed. We also see him coming to us in the Eucharistic bread at the Mass.
God became man in the form of a baby, lying in a manger. This definitely provides insight into God’s character: Jesus is both humble and self-giving. Today, on Christmas Day, enjoy time with family and friends, but most of all, spend time in silent prayer thanking God for his gift of self. Ask for the grace to make your heart a “manger,” a place that welcomes the Lord even in difficult times.