FEASTING ON THE WORD
"If you meditate on the Scriptures it will appear to you in its brilliant splendor." ―St. Pio of Pietrelcina
The Nativity of the Lord (B)
Mass at Midnight
Isaiah 9:1-6 | Psalm 96: 1-2, 2-3, 11-12, 13 | Timothy 2:11-14 | Luke 2:1-14
A Blessed and Merry Christmas to you brothers and sisters!
As we celebrate this Christmas, I'm especially struck by the first words proclaimed after Jesus is born. The angel says to the shepherds “do not be afraid.” These words were also used in the events leading up to Christ's birth. The first thing the angel Gabriel says to Mary at the Annunciation is “do not be afraid.” Similar with St. Joseph, the angel says to him in a dream, “Do not be afraid Joseph to take Mary as your wife.” Why would the first words God has proclaimed to the human race on the birth of His Son be “do not be afraid”?
Long ago in a far away kingdom, there was a forward thinking king who believed in quick justice. One day, a thief was brought by the guards to him for his judgement. The king told him he had two options. He could be hung by a rope or take the punishment behind the big dark scary steel door. Not knowing what chastisement awaited him behind the steel dark door, the thief immediately chose to be hung by the rope. As the noose was being placed around his neck the thief asked the king “just out of curiosity, what’s behind the steel door?” The king paused. The thief pressed and said “clearly I am not going to be able to tell anyone," pointing to the strap around his neck. The king laughed quietly and said "Freedom is behind those doors. But it seems most people are so afraid of the unknown that they immediately take the rope."
Everybody is afraid of something. Very young children typically fear animals, dark rooms, high places, strangers, and loud noises. Grownups are more likely scared about broken relationships, increasing poverty and unemployment, political instability, lack of education, religious conflicts, large scale conflicts and wars, earthquakes, typhoons, and other disasters. I felt very afraid when the retina specialist told me I am slowly losing my vision. Most of us see Christmas as a season of joy and merry-making. We decorate our houses, hold parties, get together to eat, join in games, and organize white elephant gift exchanges. We greet each other "Merry Christmas" or "Maligayang Pasko." At Christmastime we tend to focus on the joy and gladness we feel, but for a moment, let’s think about fear. As the king said in the story, most people, in truth, are afraid of the unknown. Fear comes from uncertainty. The first Christmas is characterized by fear and anxiety because it is one with most insecurity surrounding it. The nativity stories in the Bible do not pretend that it was easy for Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus: The first Christmas features a relationship problem between a couple where the pregnant woman is almost abandoned by her fiancé because he thought she was unfaithful (cf. Matthew 1:18-19). The first Christmas was a humble time with no proper living conditions and the baby lying in the manger after the very pregnant young woman and her gentleman companion are turned away from an inn (cf. Luke 2:7). The first Christmas was a troubled affair involving dangerous journeys. Some local king, threatened by a baby who comes as king of kings, puts out a hit on the baby's life, compelling the new family's escape to Egypt as refugees. Infuriated that the child has escaped, the king orders the massacre of all babies under the age of two in and around Bethlehem (cf. Matthew 2:3-16). Has the world changed since that first Christmas? More than 2,000 years have passed since that first Christmas but we are still experiencing anxiety. We are troubled by the calamities and disasters. We feel scared of losing our job. We are anxious at the thought of not having enough food on the table. We dread the day when we will not have enough money to pay our bills and buy new stuff. We fear that one day we will have to break off a ten-year relationship that barely works. We fear that we will lose influence and friends. We are full of fear as if God is not with us.
How wonderful it is that back in the Garden of Eden, God promised to send the Saviour. When Jesus Christ came, his life fully matched over 300 specific predictions in the Old Testament. The prophet Micah predicted the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. Isaiah foretold his miraculous birth that a virgin would conceive. The prophet Zechariah foretold his entry into Jerusalem on a donkey and his betrayal for 30 pieces of silver by one of his followers. Isaiah described that "The Lord's anointed will preach the good news to the poor, bind up the broken-hearted..." The prophet David foretold the Messiah's hands and feet would be pierced and the soldiers would cast lots for his clothing. When the angel announced to the shepherds the birth of Jesus, he focused on Christ as the reason not to fear, "Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy.” The good news is that we should no longer be afraid because we have absolute certainty that God keeps his promise. We should be afraid no more because the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us. While we have leaders who crave of becoming gods, we see a God who desires to become man like us to walk us through the turmoil of this world. And that is what God says to us today, no matter what our fears may be. When we feel afraid, let us turn our attention toward Christ. He is saying to you right now, “Do not be afraid.” It’s been said by authors like Liz Babbs and Richard Rohr, OFM that there are 365 “Do not be afraids” in the Bible, one “Do not be afraid” for every day of the year—actually there are more than 365 “Do not be afraids” in the Scriptures! God doesn’t want us to go a single day without hearing his word of comfort, “Fear not!”
‘Do not be afraid’ is at the heart of the Christmas story. What fear is trying to take a hold of you right now? What threat or trouble are you facing? Christmas is an incredible reminder that we can depend on the God who keeps his promises. God never fails and He is always faithful. Always trust in Him. Huwag kang mangamba. Do not be afraid.
May God bless you in this anxious time. Merry Christmas and a smooth start of 2024 to everyone!
Jeff Jacinto, PhD, DHum