The Roman Catholic Community of Saint Thomas Aquinas & Holy Family. Two churches - Joining as ONE Family - Together in Love.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas

A Christmas Meditation

It's Christmas ~ a time of rejoicing, feasting, presents & love! A time to remember and celebrate the GREATEST present of all for it is Jesus' birthday!!!

What is your image of the first Christmas? Do you think of the Christmas Crib under your tree???? A quiet stable filled with clean straw, and beautiful statues of Joseph, Mary, the shepherds and the magi kneeling in prayer ~ worshiping the baby??? Perhaps an odorless cow, donkey and some equally odorless sheep & camels???
However, the first Christmas was an actual event that came complete with the sights, smells and the sense of the coldness of the night. People aren't plaster statues kneeling in prayer ~ so what was the first Christmas actually like????
Close your eyes and try to imagine what the people actually felt and thought as they experienced the first Christmas.
At that time, Rome was a great empire ruled by Caesar Augustus and King Herod governed the land of Israel.
Far in the East, the magi searched the heavens and in their separate palaces they were amazed to discover the Star of Destiny rising in the western sky. The ancients had foretold that the Star of Destiny would rise in the night sky and lead those who are wise to the Light of the World. Surely, the Star of Destiny was a myth, but there it was beaming in the night sky. Balthasar, Melchoir & Caspar, who NEVER agreed on anything consulted with each other. They all saw the star and agreed that this unusual occurrence was an adventure that couldn't be missed. As soon as they could assemble a caravan, they followed the star.
At the same time, in the land of Israel, in the little unimportant village of Nazareth there lived a young carpenter, Joseph and his wife Mary, who was pregnant. They were eagerly anticipating the birth of their first child. All births are special, but the birth of this child had been announced by the Angel Gabriel. Very close to Mary's due date the Roman soldiers marched through the villages announcing that the Emperor had ordered a census. In two weeks everyone had to register for the new taxes in the towns of their birth. No exceptions, no questions, this is the law!!!
Joseph & Mary had expected the birth of their child to occur in Nazareth, but it was not to be so. Joseph was furious, he protested that his wife was due any day WHY couldn't they register in Nazareth?? His protests were to no avail; the soldiers just laughed at him. He felt so incompetent!!
This new problem caused the nagging doubts to reappear ~ did an angel really appear to him or was it just his over active imagination providing a solution to a horrible problem?? Mary's unusual pregnancy originally was a difficult experience for Joseph. Especially, because he became aware of it after Mary had returned from a three month stay in Ain-Karim with her cousin Elizabeth. If this child was the foretold one, why all these difficulties??? As he prepared for the trip, he prayed and his hand trembled when the sacred prophecy flashed into his mind. Away in Rome, Caesar Augustus dreamed that his might had worked their departure from hearth and home by his decree ~ while in truth the word of God had decreed it ages ago.. "You Bethlehem in the land of Judah, you are by no means the least of the cities of Judah, for out of you shall come the one to be Ruler in Israel." He felt relief ~ everything was arranged by the Lord of history, his little family were safe in the Lord's hands.
The trip was extremely difficult; the roads were filled with stressed out people traveling under duress. Mary's labor pains started hours before they reached Bethlehem. They finally arrived and to their dismay discovered a town swarming with people. The baby was coming, and there was no lodging available in any of the Econo-inns.
Against his better judgment, a frantic Joseph tried a distant cousin's house, begging accommodations for the night. After delivering a sermon about premarital sex and how he had tarnished the family name, his cousin sniffed and informed them that she was busy preparing for her Hanukkah celebration and just had no room for them. In desperation, they even tried Jesse's spacious inn, which they really couldn't afford. However, it was overflowing with people and the innkeeper took one look at Joseph & Mary's clothes and said we have no room. Joseph pleaded that his wife was having her baby, only to be informed that wasn't Jesse's problem. Jesse ended the conversation as a Temple priest arrived and inquired concerning available accommodations. The innkeeper just about pushed Joseph over as he welcomed the priest to the inn.
Joseph was in a state of panic! There has to be someplace, anyplace where Mary could have the baby with some privacy. Then he remembered the caves in the field of Ruth that he used to play in when he was a boy. Some provider he was, but time was running out and there seemed to be no other options. Better the privacy of a cave then to have the baby born in the street. It appeared that others had the same thought and the first couple of caves were filled with beggars and other poor travelers. Luckily, the last one was being used as a stable and because of the smell had only animals in it.
Rachel, who was camping out in the second cave, noticed Mary's condition and offered to help. So she came with them and assisted Mary with the birth. Joseph gathered wood and started a fire and soon there was a squeal announcing the new birth. Rachel fussed and chattered as she helped Mary lie down and hold the baby. It was a beautiful baby boy and Joseph smiled as the baby's little hand gripped his finger. Rachel was still chattering..."the little fellow certainly resembles his mother..... he appears to be healthy but we have to wrap him up before he catches his death of cold". She took Jesus, anointed him, and wrapped him snugly in swaddling bands, placing him into the manger, which Joseph had converted into a makeshift crib. Joseph walked Rachel back to the second cave, he was very grateful for her kindness. Upon his return, he laid another log on the fire to protect against the bitter cold night. As he snuggled with Mary and was drifting off to sleep, he thanked God for this long and difficult day, which had turned into the most wonderful day in his whole life!
Meanwhile, the shepherds were watching their sheep on the hills of Bethlehem. From nowhere there was a whirlwind and an angle appeared and shouted. "Glory to God in the highest and tidings of joy to all!" The shepherds were stunned and frightened as the angel stood before them and said; "Do NOT fear, but rejoice!! I come to bring tidings of great joy!!! Shepherds, you are the chosen ones of God who are to announce the fullness of time! Glory to God and tidings of joy to all! Let all people exult for in Bethlehem is born the Messiah, Glory to God and tidings of joy to all!"
One of the shepherds struggled to respond. "Surely, this must be a joke, you are mistaken. We are shepherds. The Messiah would appear in a palace and certainly not to such as us." However, the angel insisted, repeating the message. "Go to Bethlehem and announce this good news to all!" The shepherd retorted; "But Bethlehem is a big town, how are we to know where to find the child?" The angel responded; "This will be the sign. In a cattle cave, in a manger filled with hay, you will find wrapped in swaddling clothes the infant Messiah born this day." The shepherd shook his head, and said; "I must have drunk too much wine. Dirty shepherds announcing to all in Bethlehem that the Messiah is a baby lying in a manager in a cattle cave ~ give me a break. No one is going to believe us. I'm not sure I believe it. This isn't a good idea!"
Suddenly, the night exploded with the sound as hundreds of angels appeared singing and the angel insisted "GO, proclaim the glad tidings!!" Then just as suddenly the angels disappeared, leaving the astonished shepherds by themselves.
After that display, the shepherds carrying a lamb as a present for the baby hurried off to announce the good news to all that they met. They played their flutes as they announced the good news. Unfortunately, other then threats to call the Romans on them for disturbing the peace, no one joined them in the search for the Messiah.
Disappointed, they left the town, heading towards the caves. Their music awakened the children who excitedly joined the procession leading the way to the last cave containing Joseph and Mary who were woken by the noise.
"Shalom, Shalom," Joseph greeted the crowd. "Come, warm yourselves. Have your sheep strayed?" The shepherds responded, "We have come to see the Messiah child, just born." Joseph was startled and asked, "Who sent you?" Mary sleepily interrupted and said, "Enter and be welcome!"
The shepherds shared the story of the angels and presented the lamb as a gift. They shared their food, their music and their love. All of heaven was awed by the music of the poor ascending from the little town of Bethlehem.
Not far out of Bethlehem, the magi were still following the star. They had traveled for many days over mountains, through the desert and the wilderness. During the journey they discussed whom this King, this light of the world would be. Balthazar felt that they would find royalty who would rule the whole world. Melichor believed that they would find someone so wise that he would end all of the world problems. Caspar believed that they would find someone so holy that he would show them the way to the gods.
They had many adventures during their trip, but all of their charts indicated that this night was the night of destiny and the signs all pointed to the little town of Bethlehem.
They had actually reached Bethlehem the previous week, but at Balthazar's insistence they made their way to Jerusalem to ask advice from King Herod. Herod and his court were filled with corruption and even Balthazar had to admit that the journey was a waste of time. Funny fellow that Herod, who would dream that someone so treacherous would also want to come and visit the person who would be the greatest King. Making us promise to send immediate word of what we discovered ~ you never know.
The magi arrived at the stable and squabbled prior to entering. Balthazar was adamant that they were looking for royalty, so this certainly wasn't the right place. Caspar, especially protested that the charts must be wrong. He insisted that there had to be a great religious experience, some divine revelation indicating the Light of the World. Melichor insisted that the signs all point to this spot, and as wrong as it appears, the least we can do is to check it out. The disappointment was overwhelming as they entered the stable. It seemed unbelievable that the conclusion of their long journey was here.... in a shabby, smelly stable, looking at an infant snuggling with a lamb for warmth in a manger of straw, his two peasant parents beside him. There were no heavenly lights, no divine thunder rumbling, no angelic music, no servants, no riches, nothing of what they had anticipated. However, when the baby looked at them, they were suddenly aware that they had successfully completed their quest. As crazy as it appeared there was something very special there, and they were honored to have the privilege of entering the stable.
Jesus came into a fallen and unpleasant world. The world rejected him. The world still rejects him. But where ever he is accepted, love is there. On the first Christmas, Christ was revealed only to a few witnesses in the dead of night. Further, while God had at hand many rulers, priests and philosophers available to witness this special occasion, he chose shepherds, people who were looked down upon and considered unimportant. Sometimes, God's ways doesn't seem to make sense, but if we desire to come to the Christ, we must not be ashamed to follow those whom God chose and answer for ourselves the call to follow him.

With gratitude to Fr. Ed Hays for his many parables & Meditations that we have enjoyed, some of which have deeply influenced the above meditation!!