154. The Promise of Peace (Luke 2:1-14)
“He does not want to overwhelm us with his strength. He takes away our fear of his greatness. He asks for our love: so he makes himself a child.” - Pope Benedict XVI
Luke 2:1-14: Now at this time Caesar Augustus issued a decree for a census of the whole world to be taken. This census – the first – took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria, and everyone went to his own town to be registered. So Joseph set out from the town of Nazareth in Galilee and traveled up to Judaea, to the town of David called Bethlehem, since he was of David’s House and line, in order to be registered together 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 a son, her first born. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them at the inn. In the countryside close by there were shepherds who lived in the fields and took it in turns to watch their flocks during the night. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone round them. They were terrified, but the angel said, ‘Do not be afraid. Listen, I bring you news of great joy, a joy to be shared by the whole people. Today in the town of David a saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. And here is a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly with the angel there was a great throng of the heavenly host, praising God and singing: ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace to men who enjoy his favour.’
Christ the Lord The universe is not a democracy. Rather, it is ruled directly by God, who is a King, and his Kingdom is one of peace – the interior peace that comes from a clean conscience and the knowledge that our heavenly Father loves us, and the exterior peace that comes from communities built on humility, generosity, charity, and solidarity. Just as David (who was also one “anointed” by God) brought peace to ancient Israel, so his descendent, Jesus Christ, born in David’s city, will bring universal peace to all mankind. Those who submit to his rule will begin to experience that peace even now, while his Kingdom is still incomplete. Those who rebel against his rule, ignoring or disdaining his wisdom and authority, will never experience the peace they long for – neither in this world, nor in the world to come. Jesus is the Prince of Peace, but the peace he came to give can only be had if we obey him as our wise and loving Lord.
As his followers, we often wonder how we can more effectively communicate this message of peace. Through the mystery of his birth, Jesus teaches us that eloquence in announcing the message comes from obedience in doing God’s will. Jesus obeys the divine decision to become a human being, to be born as an infant, unable to utter a word. Yet, at that very moment of his seeming weakness, the angels come and announce the message with a superhuman power and beauty. The Lord is the one who builds his Kingdom; our task is simply to carry out whatever orders he gives us.
Christ the Teacher We tend to search for elaborate methods to get into contact with God. We often expect to find God in extraordinary circumstances. But we’re usually wrong. The shepherds were responsibly fulfilling their normal, unglamorous duties when the angels appeared to them. Joseph and Mary welcomed the Son of God in a poor stable-cave while they were waiting to register for the census. The great lesson of the Incarnation is precisely that God wants to meet us – and befriend us – right where we are. With Christ, the everyday circumstances of the human condition become occasions of divine revelation and grace-filled salvation. St Theresa of Avila used to say that she found the Lord among the pots and pans; with a simple, childlike faith, we can do the same.
The shepherds were shivering in the cold, watching over their tranquil flocks, gazing at the stars, mulling over their worries. They had no reason to expect that anything special would happen that night. But God finds a way to break through the routine.
Joseph was concerned for his wife, who had to give birth in a grotto used to shelter livestock. How he would have longed to give Jesus a worthier welcome! Yet he had to do the best he could under the circumstances, and God took his best and turned it into the most eloquent story in human history. God throws off his glory and power and wraps himself in humility and poverty, because he wants to walk with his people and lead them home to heaven.
Mary, whose heart had been beating in sync with Christ’s Sacred Heart for nine months now – nurturing in her womb the sacred humanity of our Savior and nurturing in her mind the unfathomable love of God – was most likely not distracted at all by the circumstances. Her gaze was fixed entirely on Jesus. Every detail of the night was emblazoned on her memory, and each one spoke to her of God. The hay, the manger, the cave, the cold, the swaddling clothes, the animals, the darkness… Jesus had chosen to be born in their midst, and that was enough of an explanation for one who believed.
Christ the Friend God is all-powerful. He is all knowing. He could have come to us in any way at all, but he chose to do so quietly. He chose to give us a “sign” by becoming an “infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger.”
Small, weak, and helpless – that’s how our Lord comes to us, because he wants us to welcome him, to let him into our lives. Would we feel drawn to him if he had come in the form of a powerful giant? Probably not. But who can resist the charm of a helpless baby? By making himself weak, in need of constant care and attention, he draws us into a relationship with him, a relationship that God has longed to restore ever since it was shattered in the Garden of Eden. Each Christmas, and each day, when the Bethlehem event is renewed on the altar during Mass, God reissues his gentle invitation. Will we accept? Will we let Christ come into our lives anew, or will we keep him at a distance, afraid to risk our self-sufficiency and comfort for the sake of a helpless, needy child? It’s cold in that Bethlehem cave, and he’s hoping to be warmed by our embrace.
Christ in My Life I believe in you, and I want to follow you. I don’t want to rule you or rule the universe, or even rule my own life and the lives of those around me. I am your ambassador, your servant, your messenger, your soldier. Do with me as you will, Lord. I ask only that you bring your peace to my heart each day, and make me an instrument to bring that same peace to those around me…
Sometimes it’s easy for me to find you among the pots and pans, but other times I feel quite alone. How can I see your hand at work in the normal events of my daily life? I want to find you there, to embrace you there, to converse with you there, to obey you and follow you there. Lord, I believe, but help my unbelief…
You are so gentle, so respectful. You never force your way into my heart. Teach me to be like you, Lord: full of strength, but a strength that acts with respect, gentleness, and humility. Teach me to love my neighbors, to treat them with the same sincere and attentive kindness with which you have always treated me. And teach me to love all my neighbors, not just the ones who are easy to love…
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