Homily on the Nativity of the Lord (Christmas)

December 25, 2021 Mass

She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger (Lk 2:7)

When we walk into the Catholic church on Christmas, we see a Creche set up normally in the back or in the narthex. Then at the end of the “Midnight Mass, an event of major liturgical significance. . ., the faithful could be invited to kiss the image of the Child Jesus, which is then placed in a crib” (Directory on Popular Piety, no. 111). Considering these instructions, let us reflect upon this saying from the Holy Scriptures during Christmas: “While they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Lk 2:7). More specifically, Jesus was laid in “a manger.”  What is a manger? And why it is so significant for us on this Christmas of 2021?

A manger is a feeding trough for animals. The manger in the infancy narrative is a possible allusion to the beginning of the major teaching in the Old Testament, the Book of the Prophet Isaiah: “An ox knows its owner; and an ass, its master’s manger; But Israel does not know, my people has not understood” (Is 1:3).  The prophet used these proverbial animals for their stupidity and stubbornness to underline Israel’s failure to respond to God.

Placing her firstborn son in the manger, Mary presents to the human family that Jesus is our spiritual food. Just like the animals in Bethlehem must approach that trough to be nourished and grow, now, human beings can sustain and flourish when we are in a relationship with the Lord. Without a relationship with this Holy Infant, we cannot live. This is the reason the angels of the Lord declared to the shepherds on the night of Christ’s birth: “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord” (Lk 2:10-11).  Please note this joy is for all the people. The firstborn son of Mary is the nourishment for all.

The infancy narrative strengthens description of Christ as the spiritual food by situating the city of his birth: “And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem” (Lk 2:4). The word Bethlehem means house of bread. In the house of bread, Jesus was presented to the world as the spiritual nourishment for all. St. Augustine in one of his homilies elaborated on the significance of the manger: “Laid in a manger, he became our food” (Sermon 189, 4). Pope Benedict XVI comments on this depth of the saint’s elaboration:

Augustine drew out the meaning of the manger using the idea that at first seems almost shocking, but on a closer examination contains a profound truth. The manger is the place where animals find their food. But now, lying in the manger, is he who calls himself the true bread come down from heaven, the true nourishment that we need in order to be fully ourselves. This is the food that gives us true life, eternal life. Thus, the manger becomes a reference to the table of God, to which we are invited to receive the bread of God. From the poverty of Jesus’ birth emerges the miracle in which man’s redemption is mysteriously accomplished. (Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, trans. Philip J. Whitmore, Image: New York, 68).

Reflection on the significance of Mary laying Jesus in the manger during this Christmas is very timely. The entire Church is called to a deepening of our faith in the symbol of the manger now is a reality on the altar in every church. In the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, Christ gave us His very Body and Blood to nourish us. The “Word made flesh” (Jn 1:14) and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Christ continues to give Himself to us in the flesh in Holy Communion at Mass. Therefore, my friends, every time we are at Church, we are at Bethlehem, the house that has the Bread of Eternal Life and the altar in every church where bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ.  This then becomes the manger presenting Christ as our spiritual nourishment.

Friends, whatever happened to us in the past two years, may this Christmas be a welcome to Bethlehem and may we approach this manger, this altar of our parochial church every Sunday. Recall what the prophet Isaiah said regarding the People of God then: “An ox knows its owner; and an ass, its master’s manger; But Israel does not know, my people has not understood” (Is 1:3).  Let us know Christ as our spiritual nourishment and always be grateful to God who cares for us by providing a manger with our daily bread.

Scriptural Readings: Vigil Mass Reading I Is 62:1-5; Responsorial Psalm Ps 89:4-5, 16-17, 27, 29.; Reading II Acts 13:16-17, 22-25; Alleluia “Tomorrow the wickedness of the earth will be destroyed: the Savior of the world will reign over us;” Gospel Mt 1:1-25. Mass during the Night Reading I Is 9:1-6;; Responsorial Psalm Ps 96: 1-2, 2-3, 11-12, 13.; Reading II Ti 2:11-14; Alleluia Lk 2:10-11; Gospel Lk 2:1-14. Mass at Dawn Reading I Is 62:11-12; Reading II Ti 3:4-7; Alleluia Lk 2:14; Gospel Lk 2:15-20  Mass during the Day Reading I Is 52:7-10; Responsorial Psalm Ps 98:1, 2-3, 3-4, 5-6.; Reading II Heb 1:1-6; Alleluia “A holy day has dawned upon us. Come, you nations, and adore the Lord. For today a great light has come upon the earth;” Gospel Jn 1:1-18

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