Jesus’ simple birth offers needed insight
Living the Word l By Tim Irwin
Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord l Dec. 25
At the Vigil Mass: Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 89:4-5,16-17,27,29; Acts 13:16-17,22-25; Matthew 1:1-25
Mass During the Night: Isaiah 9:1-6; Psalm 96:1-2,2-3,11-12,13; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14
Mass at Dawn: Isaiah 62:11-12; Psalm 97:1,6,11-12; Titus 3:4-7; Luke 2:15-20
Mass During the Day: Isaiah 52:7-10; Psalm 98:1,2-3,3-4,5-6; Hebrews 1:1-6; John 1:1-18
My 3-year-old grandson, Nicholas, led me to a refreshed appreciation of the birth of Jesus. Having heard the story for a lifetime, the perils of having been born in a stable inside a cave and laid in a manger had been lost on me. Considering God the Father’s unlimited capacity to act, it can’t be an accident, but surely offers a much-needed insight.
Jesus entered the world vulnerable to the whim of anyone who might have wished him harm. As Matthew recounts, Herod had it in for the Christ Child and he didn’t much care about the collateral damage resulting from his murderous rampage. The website, “The Conversation,” reports the ancient world’s infant mortality rate to be about 50 percent, so even without the royal egomaniac with which to contend, Baby Jesus’s odds of survival were no better than the flip of a coin.
Laying in a manger on a chilly night, Jesus reveals that the Kingdom of God comes in a spirit of vulnerability. Jesus came into the world to do good for others. It proved to be a risky business from his first day in the manger to his last day on the cross. Through it all, He simply did the will of his Father, doing the good that only He could do. Jesus redeems humanity and invites us to reveal with him the Kingdom of God.
LIVING OTHER-CENTERED LIVES
Jesus said the Kingdom of God is at hand. Perhaps, that seems to be more of an ideal than a reality, but rest assured the Kingdom of God is right here, right now. Maybe we’re not experiencing it and so doubt its presence. Our solution is to pierce the veil; an act that has as much how and why we accept the Lord’s invitation as it has about what we do or don’t do.
Jesus came into the world to do good for others. It proved to be a risky business from his first day in the manger to his last day on the cross. Through it all, He simply did the will of his Father, doing the good that only He could do.
Throughout my career, various students have told me they don’t get much out of attending Mass. Perhaps, the solution is to attend Mass with the intention of giving rather than getting. Giving to those for whom we pray. Giving to our fellow congregants by our presence in the gathering. When two or more gather in His name, Jesus presides and when those gathered focus on the good of others, the veil created by our self-centeredness lifts and the Kingdom of God shines through.
It’s easy to understand, but difficult and tedious in practice. Difficult because escaping the pull of the ego leaves us feeling vulnerable. Maybe that’s why the idiom, “Looking out for number one,” has become so popular that it can be found in the Cambridge dictionary. Tedious because we can’t do it in one heroic act. We live other-centered lives by doing the good for others that we can reasonably do in countless small ways, day after day.
If you’re thinking, “I can’t do this on my own,” you’re correct. None of us can; we need each other in the Eucharistic Covenant that is the Catholic Church.
Perhaps, this Christmas at the Holy Mass, we might recall a vulnerable Baby Jesus at the beginning of his difficult and tedious journey to the Holy Cross. Perhaps, we can accept some vulnerability by renewing our commitment to the good of others. Then in countless small ways we can do the good for others that we can reasonably do. This will lessen the veil of self-centeredness and we may at last realize that the Kingdom of God truly has always been at hand.
TIM IRWIN teaches theology and philosophy at Notre Dame High School in Peoria. He is a member of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Morton.