Saturday, December 27, 2014



Each year at Christmas we hear the gospel readings about the stable in Bethlehem, and the
manger, the shepherds and the magi. We see artists’ depictions of the scene of Mary, Joseph and the divine Child. Thanks to Francis of Assisi many of us get to visit a representation of the stable scene made of statues. I remember as a child going each Christmas to visit the stable erected on the edge of the campus of Seton Hall University; this was so impressive because it featured a live donkey and some real sheep.

But just what am I supposed do in the presence of these images? Of course I reflect on the mystery of God’s coming down and dwelling among us as a human being. But what does this have to do with me? What am I supposed to DO with this fact? Talk about religion not being relevant to our real world!


For some thoughts that might be a good companion to our meditations about the baby lying in the manger, let me suggest the following paragraphs from Adrian Nocent, O.S.B.,  The Liturgical Year Vol I, 180-181. (I’ve taken the liberty of underlining a couple of his thoughts that were helpful to me.)

The cult of the manger was a late development in the Church, and Christmas originally laid no such emphasis on the infant condition of Jesus. On the contrary, the coming of the Word as man was closely connected to the paschal mystery [Christ's suffering, death and resurrection]. In fact, this connection is characteristic of the specifically Christian idea of God’s incarnation. Incarnation means not only that God is with us but also that we are redeemed and with God. Fallen mankind is redeemed and shares the very life of God.
In the traditional thinking of the Church there is nothing poetic about the incarnation. In fact, the emphasis is, if anything, on a rather brutal fact: The Word came to do God’s will, even to the point of dying on the cross. Another element of the specifically Christian view of the incarnation is that God became man, not so that he might be with us, but so that we might be with him. In other words, the incarnation is the starting point of our divinization. But even this “divinization” is not an end in itself. It comes about so that, having become in a sense “divine,” we may be capable of effectively working with Christ to rebuild the world for the glory of the Father.
We are thus not passive bystanders at the incarnation. The incarnation radically transforms the history of the world and the personal history of each of us. Because of it, each of us must measure up to God’s plan and play his proper role in it.


So, Fr. Adrian has helped me with a practical answer to my "So what?" question about the stable scene. Now when I stop to gaze at the lovely nativity scene in the rear of the abbey’s church, it can be a pointed reminder that the incarnation radically transformed the history of the world, and is supposed to radically change me into someone who plays a unique and irreplaceable role in God’s loving plan for the world.

,,,,,,A blessed Christmas and a grace-filled new year!

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