Once in Royal David's
From an article in FROM THE HOUSETOPS, VOL. 19, NO. 3 [www.saintbenedict.com]
GOD was born into this world of the Virgin Mary in a little town called Bethlehem. Bethlehem is six miles below Jerusalem, slightly to the southwest.
Mary had gone to Bethlehem at the time when
God was born of her because of an edict of Caesar Augustus, the Roman
He had decreed that the whole world, then under Roman dominion, should
go to the city or town or village of their ancestors for the sake of an
accurate record. Joseph and Mary belonged to the tribe of King David.
was David's city. That is why Mary went there with her spouse, Joseph,
to register under the Roman Law.
What seemed, therefore, like an accident according to legal prescriptions, was foreseen, planned and designed by God. Hundreds of years before Jesus was born God had predicted the place where His birth would occur. God had said through the mouth of one of His prophets," And thou Bethlehem the land of Juda art not the least among the princes of Juda; for out of thee shall come forth the Captain that shall rule my people Israel."
Bethlehem means House of Bread. It was a most beautiful name for the first repository of the Incarnate Word, Whose dwelling with us through the Christian centuries has always been in a little house of Bread upon our altars.
The Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph,
when they went to Bethlehem, and when Mary's time was about to be
that her Child should be born, found no room in the inn of that town
they could stay. Nor did they want such a place. The Holy Scripture
us simply, "There was no room for them in the inn." We thank
so did Mary and Joseph---that this was so. Imagine
Jesus being born in a crowded inn! Imagine our Christmas crib being
in a noisy hotel. Imagine our remembrance of Jesus at Christmas being
more than an effort to indicate a chamber behind one of the windows of
a temporary boarding house, where elders were awake and other little
asleep. There would be no liturgical chastity
in the birthplace of the King of the World had it been an inn. He never could be visited and loved and greeted there, by shepherds and children and kings.
The Word of God was born of the Virgin Mary in a cave just outside of Bethlehem. The cave was pointed out by a little country girl whom Joseph and Mary met on the village road. The cave was part of the ruins of a castle where King David once lived. And so, by Divine dispensation, David's little royal heir was born in David's dwindled royal house. Faith sees these things as we read Holy Scripture. Love delights in them.
The Church commemorates the great dates that antecede the coming of Our Lord at Christmas in the beautiful Roman Martyrology read on the eve of the Nativity. Our Holy Mother the Church tells us as children the innocent story of Christmas, with details and numbered years, that only doubters wince at and only those who are losing their Faith begin to think of with caution.
We are told in the Roman Martyrology that the little King of Heaven and Earth, whom David called Lord, although He was to be His descendant, was born in the starlit darkness of a cave in Bethlehem upon the twenty-fifth day of December, in the 5199th year of the creation of the world, from the time when God in the beginning created the heaven and earth; the 2957th year after the flood; the 2015th year from the birth of Abraham; the 1510th year from Moses, and the going forth of the people of Israel from Egypt; the 1032nd year from the anointing of David King ... "
Just as God was conceived of Mary virginally, so was He born of her virginally. His passage from the portals of her womb into the little cradle of straw in the manger of Bethlehem, was effected as light passes through a window. His body's exit from the tabernacle of His mother's flesh did not destroy in one single detail the virginal character of her own body. Our Lady went through no pains of childbirth. She did not have any of the anguishes that are attached to the non-virginal bearing of a baby. This is a dogma of the Catholic Faith. Mary was a virgin before, during, and after the birth of Christ. Not to believe this is to blaspheme God.
The virginal character of Our Lord's birth
is meant to give us much joy as we go in spirit to
the manger of Bethlehem and watch little Jesus come like light from the beautiful citadel of His mother's body. We are also entitled, by a special privilege of love, in our prayerful thoughts, to watch her wrap Him in swaddling clothes and lay Him in the manger. The stable of Bethlehem is the little delivery room where all the eyes of the world may watch what takes place------so holy, so chaste, so simple, so Angelic, and yet so incarnational, is the coming into the world of Our Savior.
We would do well to make it always a part of our prayers and of our meditation. We ought, in spirit, often to watch Jesus breathe His first breath, open His eyes to look at His surroundings for the fIrst time, and then be folded to His Mother's breast so as to drink the milk that will sustain Him in human life. It is God Who is doing all these things as an infant, wrapped in silence on Christmas night in a cattle stable. He is truly the Word of God, and His Mother is the Mother of God.
The three immediate groups of visitors who came to visit Jesus at His birth were Angels in the sky who sang songs, and shepherds on the hills who shouted praises, and wise men from the East who brought gifts. The proud rulers of Jerusalem, the Scribes and the Pharisees, and the Jewish priests who would soon want to kill Jesus as a child and would one day crucify Him as a man, did not come.
There is a simple and innocent Christmas lesson immediately to be learned in the Bible story by watching the quality of the first visitors at Our Lord's birth. It is only with the innocence of an Angel, the simplicity of a shepherd, and the royalty of a king, that we should approach this Child and dare to put our hand on the straw on which He lies, and watch His Mother wrap and rewrap Him to keep Him warm in the cold night air.
God gives graces to our imagination to visualize the Nativity. Our faculty of picturing our thoughts is enabled by God intensely to see and re-realize what happened in the stable of Bethlehem two thousand years ago. If men can have remembrances of other men who once lived by descriptions and pictures and paintings and cinema records made of them, imagine God not being able to grace the picture gallery of our mind---our imagination---so as to let us vividly see Jesus in the cave of Bethlehem, if we, with closed eyes and folded hands, expect to, if our will wants to, if our hearts long to, and our prayers beseech it.
Saint Francis of Assisi, the little poor man of God, built a Christmas crib in the year 1223, three years before he died. He put an alive baby in it so as to represent the figure of the Christ Child. Many believe that baby was the future Saint Bonaventure, who became one of the greatest theologians of his time, and one day was declared a Doctor of the Universal Church. Saint Francis of Assisi had faith enough to know that God will help us to picture Christmas correctly if we truly love and believe in Him as a baby.
Jesus put the wounds of His own hands and feet and side on the body of Saint Francis of Assisi. These borrowed wounds, which are gifts of Jesus to those He loves, are known as the stigmata, and Saint Francis had them. Imagine Jesus not being able to put a picture of these same hands and feet as a child in the mind and imagination of one who loved Him as much as the little poor man of Assisi.
All our holy and simple traditions about Christmas are true ones. Christmas cribs made by loving and devotional hearts, are next to being the most accurate pictures of what Bethlehem looked like when Our Lord was in the straw, when Our Lady and Saint Joseph knelt at His side, when the lambs bleated, the ox quietly bellowed, and the calf mooed.
Our Lord was born into the world on the twenty-fifth of December. Eight days later, in the town of Bethlehem, He was circumcised. This circumcision was a sacrament of the Old Law. It was undergone to let us know that Jesus, Who would one day give us Baptism as the initial Sacrament of the New Law, came not to destroy but to fulfill. The circumcision of the Infant Jesus also lets us know with simple clarity how definitely God has became incarnate, when His flesh can be cut and His veins bleed.
On the sixth of January, in the month after Our Lord's birth, three noble kings and their attendants, led by a star, came from the East to Jerusalem. When they neared the city of Jerusalem, the star vanished. These noble kings---known as the Magi---then inquired of King Herod where the King of the Jews was to be born. Herod was troubled at the question, and all Jerusalem with him. He inquired from the Jewish priests, and learned from them what every Jew knew, that it had been foretold that their Messias was to be born in Bethlehem of Juda, and that He was to be their King.
Herod then, with cynical suspicion, told the Magi---the Wise Men---to go the Bethlehem and find out if the birth of the Messias had taken place, and if it had, to return and tell him, so that he himself might go and adore Him, an intention everyone knew he never had.
The star reappeared to the Magi on their journey to Bethlehem. It lowered itself to a depth sufficient to show them where the cave was and where they should enter, and where they should find Him Whom they were National Gallery seeking. The Magi reverently approached the manger, and went in. They saw the Mother, and the Child------in that order. This is the Gospel way of telling us in what order we, too, shall find the Child Jesus. It is through Mary that we come to Jesus. When we find her, we shall find Him. This is the Divine rule of discovery at every moment in the life of Jesus, from His first breath in the cave to His last breath on the Cross.
The names of the Magi were Gaspar, Melchior and Balthasar. The gifts the Magi brought were gold, frankincense and myrrh. Gold is to signify that Jesus is a king; frankincense is to signify that He is God; and myrrh is to signify that He is man. Gold is a material suited to two of our senses, sight and touch. Frankincense is a material suited to two of our senses, sight and smell. Myrrh, or oil, is a material suited to two of our senses, touch and smell. This is how simple and clear, innocent and vivid, are the symbols of the Incarnation offered to the King of Kings by the kings of the East.
Jesus is the King of the World. Jesus is true God. Jesus is true man. When we go to Baby Jesus at Christmas, we must remember, as taught by Angels, shepherds and wise men, this beautiful trinity of tides. Take any of these tides away from Mary's Child, and we do not have the Baby at Bethlehem Whom God means us, or helps us, or brings us to see.
The shepherds who visited the manger at Bethlehem immediately went about the neighboring countryside telling everyone what they had heard in the sky and seen in the cave.
This behavior of the shepherds is meant to teach us an innocent Biblical lesson about the birth of God into our World. Its purpose is to tell us that if we do not let everyone we meet, Christian and non-Christian, believer and non-believer, know what is in our minds and in our hearts at Christmas time, then we are not God's subjects nor is He our King.
Christmas is the season of profession of Faith everywhere and to everybody, by overt signs and utterances, prayers and songs, so that the whole world may know that the twenty-fifth of December is the birthday of Jesus Christ, our God and our King. Every human heart must be brought on Christmas Day to the manger at Bethlehem, there to adore and reverence God-made-man. Where this does not occur, souls are not saved, and men do not become part of the flock of the Divine Shepherd Who wishes to lead them into the eternal sheepfold of the Beatific Vision. Anyone who denies, or neglects, or depreciates Jesus at Christmas will never measure up to the promises of reward given in His name, for the name Jesus means Savior.
And last and highest, at Christmas we must sing songs from the depths of our spirit, songs of adoration that can be joined to the songs of the Angels in the heavens. "Glory to God in the highest," we must sing as we are looking at Mary's Baby, and then, as we turn to look into the eyes of everyone else we meet at Christmas, we must declare, "Peace on earth to men of good will."
Herod took counsel with the Sanhedrin and the chief priests at Jerusalem as to what must be done with this newborn Child Who was the talk of all the city and the hillside country. The Jewish Sanhedrin urged Herod, through the mouth of its chief jurist------a rabbi named Hillel------that he should kill off all the Jewish baby boys, two years and under, in Bethlehem and in all the neighboring villages and towns, so as to put an end to this Christmas at its very beginning.
That Herod did. These slaughtered little Jewish boys, who were all under two years, were all over eight days old. It was by the mark of circumcision, given on their eighth day, that they were recognized. Circumcision, being a sacrament of the Old Law, put a Jewish boy in infancy in the state of sanctifying grace. Because of the state these little boys were in, they are called "holy." Because of the One in place of Whom they were killed, they are called "innocent." These Holy Innocents are adopted Saints of the Catholic Faith. They were precursors in infancy of Christ in His death on the Cross. They were killed, as was Jesus, by the Jews.
God's great messenger among the Angels, Gabriel, appeared to Joseph in sleep, while the killing of the Holy Innocents was being planned, and told him to take the Divine Child and His Mother, and fly into Egypt. Egypt is a symbol of the Gentiles, being a Gentile land. It was to the Gentiles that Jesus, Mary and Joseph were one day irrevocably to go. We are sorry to see them leave Bethlehem. But we are glad to see them enter Egypt. We say to them, as we see them taking flight from the Jews into our Gentile territories, "Jesus, Mary and Joseph, we give you our hearts and our souls."
The order of events with regard to the Nativity is a beautiful and scrambled mixture of time and love, by way of letting facts be facts, dates, dates, and values, values. But here are the sure, set dates that no one can doubt: Our Lord was born on the twenty-fifth of December. He was circumcised eight days later, on the fIrst of January. His Mother presented Him in the Temple of Jerusalem on the fortieth day after His birth, on the second of February. This presentation of Jesus in the Temple also fulfilled for Mary the law of purification required of her as a Jewish mother bearing a child. Just as the humility of Jesus and His desire to fulfill and not to destroy the Law, led Him to be circumcised eight days after His birth, so the humility of Mary prompted her to be purified for the same reason. Purification was a rite which she did not even remotely deserve or need.
The feast of the Purification serves as a
fIrst entrance of the beautiful Child Jesus into the Temple of
which was still the authentic place of worship of the Old Law. It had
yet been destroyed by the wrath of God. The coming of Mary with Jesus
the Temple for her purification evoked from the ancient man Simeon, as
he took little Jesus into his arms when the beautiful Mother of God
allowed him to do so, that exalted tribute of praise known in
the Church as the Nunc Dimittis [Now Thou dost dismiss]. Simeon, looking at Mary's Child and raising his eyes to Heaven, said:
Now Thou dost dismiss Thy servant, O Lord, according to Thy word, in peace; Because my eyes have seen Thy salvation, Which Thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples: A light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel.
Mary was one with Jesus in birth; she was also one with Him in death. The Crib and the Cross are where we find the Mother of God and her Child, the Son of God and His Mother. Omit or belittle or diminish either of these places, or separate them in allied thought for an instant in our hearts, and the true Faith is gone from us. Bethlehem and Calvary are the beginning and the end, the alpha and the omega, of the Faith.
"Behold this Child is set for the fall, and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted. And thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that out of many hearts, thoughts may be revealed."
The Church has put as close to Christmas as possible all the events that can be connected with it in feast days. The Holy Innocents were killed in the early spring, but their feast is celebrated three days after the Nativity. Saint Stephen, the first Martyr of the Faith, who was stoned to death by the Jews for rebuking them for not accepting Jesus as their Messias, died three years after Our Lord, but his feast day is the day after Our Lord's birthday. Two days after the feast of Christmas, is celebrated the feast of Saint John, the beloved disciple, to let us know how close to Jesus in Mary's love John is going to be.
Mary begot Jesus in Bethlehem. Mary begot John on Calvary. There were no childbirth pains at Bethlehem. Our Lady's travail was on Calvary. Through John as a type, she begot all of us who are her children.Mary was left virginal in body at the birth of Jesus. Mary was pierced in soul at the rebirth of the rest of us.