Christmas, a light in these times?

Christmas, a light in these times?

A tale of more than 2000 years continues to fill millions of people around the world with peace. The birth of a child is celebrated even by non-believers.

Could it be a mass psychological suggestion? How does Christmas operate in the psychology and life of each person?

Let's try to go over the facts:

"In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.). And everyone went to their own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them" (Luke 2:1-7).

Luke, the author of this passage, did not want to tell us stories, but to write history: that is, what really happened. He tells us about family traditions, in which Mary, the mother of Jesus, is one of the main sources.

Following the above reading, we should ask ourselves three questions, as Benedict XVI also advises regarding the method of approaching the reading of the Bible:

  • Is what is said true?
  • Does it have to do with me?
  • And if so, in what way?

Is it true what is said in the Gospels about Jesus of Nazareth?

A physician of Greek origin, Luke, wants to report the facts as truthfully as possible, as we read at the beginning of his Gospel: "I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus" (Luke 1:3).

At the base there is coincidence in which the mystery is sensed:

It is known that in those years Rome called for a census of all the citizens of its empire - an ecúmene - first in the entire world, to determine how much tax to impose.

It was by chance, in which a higher design is easily suspected, that Mary went from the city of Nazareth to Bethlehem just at the end of the pregnancy, that saw her face a difficult and uncomfortable situation.

On the other hand, Luke mentions Augustus, who was born in Rome, in the Palatine, with the name of Gaius Octavius. Son of a wealthy businessman, who died when he was 4 years old, then adopted by his great uncle Julius Caesar. At the birth of Jesus, Augustus is the first Roman emperor. He has ruled his empire for about 27 years and knows nothing about Bethlehem.

The city named by the prophet Micah, 700 years earlier, as the place where the Savior was to be born: " But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times" (Micah 5, 1).

Augustus was also unaware of the annunciation of the angel to a young maiden from Nazareth... In the meantime, he had left the name of Ottaviano and joyfully bore the title of Augustus, that is, worthy of veneration and honor. Nine years earlier he had built a large altar in the Campus Martius, to celebrate the Pax Augusta, a period of peace throughout the empire: The ara pacis augustae, then moved to Via di Ripetta, in the center of Rome, in front of his mausoleum. In that mausoleum are the ashes of all the emperors and relatives of the Giulia-Claudia dynasty (except those of Nero).

Augustus made many important works and reforms. He gave a great impetus to culture, putting in order even the calendar of Julius Caesar. He died on 14 AD, and began to be called the son of God. He did not know, however, that the most important event in the world had happened during the years of his empire: it was during his empire that the true Son of God was born, who changed the course of history and even the calendar, with the way to name the years.

Various calendar systems were used in the Roman Empire. These included denoting each year by the names of the consuls in office (consular dating, in exclusive use throughout the Republican era), referring to the founding of Rome (ab Urbe condita dating, abbreviated a. U. c.) or naming the years following the beginning of an emperor's reign. Particularly used was the rise to the imperial throne of Augustus, which marked the beginning of the Roman Empire, with the era of the Caesars. Caesar, which - curiosity- means god in the Etruscan language.

We owe to the monk Dionysius Exiguus (died appros. in 550) the fixing of the date of birth of Jesus. He did it with a small mistake, because it was surely some years earlier. In fact, it is known that the census took place under Herod the Great, who died 4 years before the birth of Jesus. The historian Flavius Josephus indicates the year of the census was 6 AD, with Quirinus as governor of Syria. It is plausible to think that the census lasted for several years.

Luke, later, will tell us more details: such as the beginning of Jesus' public life in the year 15 of Tiberius' empire.

Surely, for many reasons, we can say: it is true, a man named Jesus was born and lived in our world. Humanly, there was peace and prosperity. Jesus did many miracles: he healed the sick, raised the dead, said he could forgive from sins, and even offered himself as food for humanity (not figuratively speaking).

If he wasn't God, he was an impostor or some kind of wizard. Jesus only gives us security and peace if he is God.

From the moment we admit the fact related by Luke about this Child who changed the world, our way of living cannot be the same. We risk the same life... and happiness.

Does the birth of Jesus of Nazareth have anything to do with me?

To answer this second question, let us think again of what we read: "she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them". Even today the Lord seeks a place in our hearts. And we see Him in a manger! In those days it was common to use caves as stables. Jesus of Nazareth was born there. Marcion, a Christian gnostic of the second century, was scandalized, saying: "Take away that manger, take away those dirty diapers, unworthy of the God I adore!" Despite his discontent, the fact remains as it is.

We read the testimony of the first people who experienced the scene in Bethlehem:

"And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger’. Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests’" (Luke 2:8-14).

All of the subsequent teachings of Jesus Christ fill us with peace and joy. He helps us to know ourselves better as men. He is the Logos: the verb, the meaning, the word, which respond to the Greek significance; and the bread... He is the true food. Saint Augustine reasoned in this way: in the manger animals usually eat, and now there is Jesus, who is the bread that came down from heaven! He is the food that gives us eternal life.

If we have said that Christmas has to do with us, let us see how

Once we have ascertained the truth of the facts of Bethlehem, and our involvement, it is useful to make an examination of our everyday life. Let Jesus in. Prepare a crib for him in our hearts. Only with a clean heart can we see God. Clean from ourselves, and also pure from so much external pollution. So many questions come to mind: Do I want to be the center of everything? What images do I let into my heart? What attracts me the most?

Jesus came into the world in poverty and humility. Where do I look for happiness? How do I care for others, for the poorest? Do I let myself be enveloped, as Pope Francis said, by the closeness of God, who is compassionate, who is tender?

The first pontiff, St. Peter, encouraged all Christians in this way: "But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have" (1 Peter 3:15). That word reason also corresponds to the Greek word Logos.

And it is the divine Logos, the Word, the second person of the Holy Trinity who comes into the world in the form of a child. This is our hope, the Good News that Christians want to present to the world.

In the book of Isaiah, 700 years before the events recounted by Luke, we read: "The ox knows its master, the donkey its owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand" (Isaiah 1:3). According to tradition, taking elements from the Old Testament, there was also an ox and a donkey in Bethlehem. These animals, which are never missing from nativity depictions, can represent us as well. Like them, we have been unable to see, but with the life and teachings of Jesus, light has entered our existence that fills it with meaning, joy and hope.

But back to Augustus (Ottaviano). After taking over Egypt, before becoming emperor, in 31 B.C. in the battle of Accius against Mark Antony and Cleopatra, he began to bring to Rome many Obelisks, which still adorn the city. Two of these will be placed right at the gates of his own mausoleum, but over the centuries they will be moved elsewhere.

One of these obelisks, which stood at the door of the mausoleum of Augustus, was placed by Sixtus V, in 1587, outside the apse of Santa Maria Maggiore, on the Esquiline Hill. It is in this basilica that some relics of the manger of the Child Jesus are preserved. And the obelisk, very close by on the outside of the church, has a Latin inscription in the pedestal that reads, "With great joy I worship the cradle of Christ, the living God forever, I who sadly served at the sepulcher of the dead Augustus".

This little baby, lying in a manger, is an already victorious warrior who will bring God's glory to its peak, who will extend his rule beyond kings, beyond extermination and death, to a new creation of the universe (cf. Bruckberger, L'histoire de Jésus-Christ).

Faced with a birth that changed history, we too can become children and follow the notes of many Christmas songs, like this: Joy to The world! the Lord is come / Let earth receive her King / Let every heart prepare him room / and heaven and nature sing. / The Savior reigns / Let men their songs employ/ while fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains / repeat the sounding joy.

In the midst of difficulties, insecurity, pandemic, fear, we can have peace. And as that blessed little donkey walked to Bethlehem, we can carry Jesus and Mary along the roads of the world.

Wenceslao Vial

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