Have you ever made a choice by necessity and not by volition? Many times our choices are influenced not by what we ordinarily wish for ourselves but by what situations present to us. We are somehow forced externally to accept it and must live with it. While it is easy sometimes to accept, it is difficult some other time especially when one has to suffer greatly. This year's Christmas is one of such occurrences we are forced to accept deprivations beyond our wills. But do we also realize that the 'first Christmas'- the whole situation surrounding Christ's birth was 'a choice borne out of necessity' like our own experience this year when we had to celebrate indoors because of the Covid-19? If you're in doubt read slowly...
C.f. Luke 2: 1-14
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 firstborn. 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 around 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.’
1. The census issued by Emperor Caesar Augustus necessitates Joseph and Mary to travel at a time when it is not advisable since Mary expects a baby. It was not an easy journey for them considering the means of transportation and their status as an inexperienced couple expecting their firstborn. But they had to accept it. It was for them (Mary and Joseph) a regulation of the state for them to go to Bethlehem, the home town of Joseph, but for God, it was a sign of his providence through human history, so that the root, destiny or purpose of the child will be established and easily recognized.
2. The Manger was another choice borne out of necessity. Mary herself had to wrap the baby with clothes and place him in the manger so that he will be warm and protected from the cold night. Pay attention to the manger. It is a word that comes from the Old French mangier (meaning "to eat") used to describe the feeder used to hold food for animals. From this root as well we can understand the Italian word 'mangiare'- to eat. And this will be the sign the Angel gives to the Shepherds for them to believe the vision. For Mary and Joseph, the manger was again a make-shift crib for the baby Jesus but it for God who inspires them to keep the baby there it meant something deeper. It was a sign of how the baby will exercise his destiny!
3. And then bringing together the two Spiritual signs or symbols: Bethlehem and Manger, a profound mystery is revealed. Bethlehem in Hebrew means 'land of Bread'. It was the birthplace of David and where David was anointed king (1Sam.16:1) and is the place prophecies foretold shall be the birthplace of the Messiah (Micah 5:2). And
Manger taken literally means 'to eat'. From this we understand the child Jesus to be a descendant of David or Son of David whose identity and mission are to become bread to feed his people that they may eat and be satisfied. No wonder before He left the world, He took bread and said... this is my body and the Chalice filled with wine...and said this is my blood (Matt.26:26-28).
4. The first Christmas was truly one of the mixed feelings of joy amidst suffering. For Mary and Joseph, it was an experience of sorrows and joys! Sorrows when situations seem to work against them and in their fears and confusion, they might have asked: God where are you? If this child comes from you why these sufferings and disappointments? But in the midst of their confusion and suffering, joys spring up with divine visitations that came with the visits of the Shepherds and Magi. And ultimately they never knew they were just acting (in freedom) like artists, if we may say, a scripted play written by God.
TASK: What is your state of mind at this period: happy or sad? Your state of mind and what you are going through are known and well understood by God. Your vision may be limited but does not limit God's plans for you. Remember while you feel bad, thinking God has abandoned you, you don't know he is preparing a bigger package out of the lack, unrest, and unhappiness you are experiencing now. Go back to Mary and Joseph again: they didn't know what you know now but they persevered. Pray to God to open your eyes of vision to see what awaits you ahead. Remember his words Job 38:1: In the midst of the storm the Lord answered Job. The Lord shall answer us in the midst of this Covid-19 crisis in Jesus' name. AMEN.

▪︎Fr. SimOne Madu, OSJ 

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