Gospel Reflection 25 Dec - SVD INM - India Mumbai Province

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Gospel Reflection 25 Dec

Christmas Midnight Mass [Lk 2:1-14]

25 December 2017

The Birth of the Saviour, Messiah and Lord in Utter Deprivation

Readings: (1) Is 9:1-6 (2) Titus 2:11-14

1. Theme in brief

God’s identification with human conditions

2.  Focus Statement

At his birth Jesus identifies himself with the rejection, lowliness, deprivation and powerlessness of humans; and his birth brings salvation to all people and peace to those on whom God’s favour rests.

3. Explanation of the text

Luke’s ‘infancy narrative’, begins with the mention of the birth of the
Heavenly King ("the Messiah and the Lord," 2:11) in a meek, lowly and powerless circumstance during the reign of the most powerful earthly king, namely Augustus Caesar. What a contrast!  Jesus and his parents (especially Mary in her advanced pregnancy) become victims of an arbitrary order of this earthly emperor that a census of the entire worldruled by him should be taken (2:1). Of course, Luke wants to tell us that Jesus is born for the whole world (as a universal Saviour); not only to give glory to Israel but also to become the light of revelation to the Gentiles (2:32). Further he wants to show that the Jewish expectations of Messiah coming from David’s dynasty are fulfilled as Joseph is a descendant of David (2:4). This explains the hardship and constraints faced by Joseph and Mary to go to Bethlehem (Joseph’s ancestral place) for the registration.

While they are there, Mary gives birth to her firstborn Son in a manger because there is no place for them in the inn (2:7). She wraps him in bands of cloth or swaddling clothes (2:7, 12). These details tell us that the Son of God faces total humility, rejection, poverty and utter deprivation at his birth, or takes upon himself these humans conditions..

The news of the humble birth of Jesus is first given to the lowly shepherds. The shepherds in Palestinewere considered to be poor, dirty and ignorant of the Law; hence outcasts. By choosing the shepherds to announce the news of his Son’s birth, God tells us that he has become one with the despised, the poor, the lowly and the little ones. The angel who announces the birth calls it good news of great joy for all the people (2:10) because of the Child’s universal mission to save all. According to the message of an angel of the Lord the reason for their joy is (2:9-10), for them (1) a Saviour, who is (2) the Messiah and (3) the Lord is born (2:11). The first title (Saviour) denotes that he is born for a divine mission (that is, to save all people), the second one is that he is to be confessed as the promised Messiah, and the third one (Lord) is that he is ofdivine nature. The sign given to the shepherds to recognize the Saviour is a fragile, helpless and defenceless baby wrapped in all the poverty of swaddling clothes and lying with all humility and lowliness in a manger (2:12).

Soon, along with that angel a multitude of heavenly hosts appears to announce that with the birth of this baby at Bethlehem, God is glorified in the highest heaven and the gift of peace is promised to people on whom his favour rests (2:14). And who become the objects of God’s favour? Not the pundits and religious heads of Jerusalem, but the poor and the despised shepherds. Finally, it is clear that joy, salvation andpeace are the greatest gifts offered by God to all people by giving his Son to humankind.

4.  Application to life

From tonight’s gospel, we come to know that God’s promised Messiah comes to us not as a powerful king but as a
powerless, poor and weak baby. Yes, not all that glitters is Christmas. God identifies himself withhuman predicament of insecurity, rejection, deprivation and misery. Joseph and Mary had to face the same predicament of insecurity and rejection due to arbitrary order of a worldly ruler, namely Augustus Caesar. They are only examples of so many people in our own times who have to face the same ordeal due to harsh and unjust decisions of those in power, especially of repressive regimes and of those rulers who ruthlessly introduce new economic policies at the cost of the poor. The poor are powerless to change these decisions. Joseph and Mary were rejected by their own people who refused to give them place in the inn. Later, Jesus himself was rejected by his own people in his native place, Nazareth (Lk 4:24). The fourth gospel (John’s) tells us that he came to his own and his own people did not accept  him (Jn 1:11).

Even today the poor find no place for them in the fast changing economies of developing countries that are more geared to back up the corporate and business world with the aim of getting political support from them. Many of the underprivileged and disadvantaged people have to struggle for survival. Do we give them a place in any of our schemes and relationships? Do we create a little time or room for them in our own ‘inns’ (places or spaces)? Do we have a number of excuses for our refusal to share our space (if we have) and things with them? What about the well-to-do among us? Mother Teresa used to say, even the rich are poor for love, for being cared for, for being wanted. What can we do to remove material as well as spiritual deprivation?

In spite of harsh realities of life faced by Jesus, it is a joy to discover that he is born as one of us, resembles us and takes upon himself our fate! God loves the despised and deprived people so much that he becomes one with their destiny. He has come to satisfy our hearts that are poor and hungry for love. Have you heard anybody telling you: "Get out from here. I do not want you." Have you ever used these or similar words to anybody? Nowadays, we can notice a sense of hunger for love and affection among children due to the inability of parents to spend some quality time with them, especially those parents who are too busy in jobs, politics and business. Will Jesus find place in our ‘inns’ (that is, selfish, over-busy and loveless hearts), or face outright rejection by us, just as he faced at his birth?

Jesus’ poverty and deprivation are a challenge for the greedy who acquire wealth through corrupt means and overexploitation of the natural resources. We notice how severely the Mother Earth and the whole of creation groan or cry in agony due to environmental degradation and break down of ecological balance, just because of human greed. Christmas reminds us that, since God used our world to send his Son, this planet is sanctified by the mystery of incarnation. According to Pope Francis, Mother Earth which is our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life, and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to nurture andsustain us. "This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by ourirresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her" ("Laudato Si" No. 2). Further he says: "The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth." ("Laudato Si" No.66).  Further, Jesus’ birth in utter deprivation is a challenge to tendencies of consumerism in the modern world. It is a challenge to those who go on craving to acquire latest goods in the markets instead ofsharing some of their wealth with the poor. Moreover, the humility and lowliness of the Babe in the manger is a challenge for the proud who bully/ dominate/ exploit the weak, the powerless and the ignorant.
Tonight’s gospel speaks about three wonderful gifts that are given by God to humanity by sending his Son: (1) the gift of joy (2:10); (2) the gift of a Saviour (2:11), and (3) the gift of peace (2:14). If so, we need to ask: "What is the real cause of our joy tonight?" Our joy is not merely due to the glitter of decoration, the glamour of new clothes, the mouth-watering cakes and fascinating gifts, but due to the gift of a Saviour who comes to lift us to the level of divinity by totally sharing in our humanity. We rejoice because he is born for all people – saints and sinners, friends and foes, nationals and foreigners and for all races and cultures. How wonderful to know that he is not bound or constrained by human tendencies of narrow-mindedness, prejudices, exclusiveness and ethnocentrism.

Today, he comes to save (liberate) us from all dehumanizing factors and situations by becoming one of us. Quite often, we are unable to rise up from our fallen state and become better persons, in spite of our best efforts. He wants to hold our hands to raise us. Do we extend our hands towards him? He comes to givepeace to those whom God favours. In tune with the multitude of angels who praised God at the good news of the Saviour’s birth (2:13), we too glorify him because we, sinners, have become "those whom he (God)favours," and those on whom his glory dawns from "the highest heaven," and to whom peace is given on earth (2:14)! Is this peace given to us for safe-keeping or to share it with those who do not have it? It is good to examine ourselves and see whether we are basically peacemakers or peace-breakers by our way of talking and acting.

Today’s gospel says that Mary wrapped Jesus in "bands of cloth and laid him in a manger" (2:7). But today Jesus does not take birth in a manger. Our broken hearts are mangers where he wants to take birth. He takes birth in order to remove hatred from our hearts and fill us with love, to wash away our sins and make us holy, to drive away darkness and give us his light, to rake away unrest and give us peace, to liberate us from all bondages, and to remove hopelessness and fill us with hope. But how many of us want to open our hearts to him? He comes with light and we may want to remain in darkness; he comes to give us divine life and we want to remain in our sins; he comes to give us peace and we wan to remain in disharmony anddivision; and he comes to us as a poor and helpless baby so that we do not keep the poor and thepowerless out of our designs. It is good to examine ourselves whether we seriously try to heal the wounds of brokenness, hatred, emotional hurts and bitterness.

5.  Response to God's Word

What does Jesus lying in the manger tell us? Is it not scandalous for God’s Son to be born as a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger? How does this utter deprivation and lowliness become a challenge for us to renounce our tendency towards domination and exploitation of the weak, possessiveness and consumerism? Do we share our resources with those who cannot repay any of our help in any way? If there is no place for the poor in our schemes, how can Christ be born today? Do we try to share the peace of Christ in a world that is so much broken and divided?

6.  A prayer

Glory to you, O God, in the highest heaven. By becoming one with us through Jesus, you showered your boundless love on lost sinners like us. We praise and bless you with the choirs of heaven for giving us abundant gifts of joy, salvation and peace by giving your Son. Make us generous so that there may be room for the poor and the rejected in our hearts. We pray that your poverty and deprivation at birth may challenge us to renounce our tendency to be greedy and possessive. Let your kind favour rest on us that we share your peace with others by becoming active promoters of peace and harmony in our broken world. O Prince of peace, grant us peace. Amen.

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