One of my favorite Christmas stories (many of you may have heard this already) is about a man who did not believe in Christmas. For him, the idea of God becoming man was simply absurd. And so, one Christmas Eve, when his wife and children invited him to join them for the midnight Mass, he politely begged off, giving lame excuses.
He was left alone in the house that night. Soon he noticed some birds tapping on his window pane. They were trying to get in to avoid the freezing temperature outside. He went out of the house, opened wide his barn and drove the birds to the direction of the barn so they could be saved from the bitter cold. The birds only scampered and flew away. He returned to the house, brought out some bread crumbs, and scattered them on the snow in trails leading to the barn. This too did not work. He tried two or three more tricks to get the birds into the barn, but all to no avail.
Frustrated, he thought to himself, “If only I were a bird, I would tell them to get at once into the barn lest they die in the freezing cold.” Just then the midnight hour struck and from a distance the church bells rang to the choral strains of “Gloria in excelsis Deo.” With tears streaming down his eyes, he knelt in the snow for he finally understood why God became man on Christmas night.
The story of Christmas is the story of God’s unspeakable love for man. A love so great that he sent his only begotten Son who became man to save us from death and lead us to life. This is the happy message announced by the angel to the shepherds of Bethlehem, “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 Saviour has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.” (Lk 2:10-11)
In Christ, God has become one of us. He is Emmanuel, God-with-us. That is why at the birth of Jesus, the angel reassures us, “Do not be afraid.” For there will be times when we find ourselves totally lost in the dark. “Do not be afraid.” He is with us and he will lead us to the light. Or times when we sail through storms, like the recent Odette or even the more devastating storms of life. “Do not be afraid.” He is with us as he was in the boat with his disciples as the tempest raged in the lake of Gennesaret.
The idea of God becoming man is indeed absurd to the human mind. In fact, it is total madness. But God goes even farther in such madness. He became bread so that we may live. “I am the living bread which has come down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever.” (Jn 6:51)
It is interesting to note that Bethlehem literally means “house of bread.” And if such preposterous image were not enough, the angel tells the shepherds, “This will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” A manger is a feeding trough for animals. God has made himself food for man that man may live.
Let me close with Pope Benedict XVI’s exquisite reflection on Bethlehem.
“Bethlehem… there God, in the house of bread, is born in a manger. It is as if he wanted to say: ‘Here I am, as your food’. He does not take, but gives us to eat; he does not give us a mere thing, but his very self. In Bethlehem, we discover that God does not take life, but gives it. To us, who from birth are used to taking and eating, Jesus begins to say: ‘Take and eat. This is my body. The tiny body of the Child of Bethlehem speaks to us of a new way to live our lives: not by devouring and hoarding, but by sharing and giving. God makes himself small so that he can be our food. By feeding on him, the bread of life, we can be reborn in love, and break the spiral of grasping and greed. From the ‘house of bread’, Jesus brings us back home, so that we can become God’s family, brothers and sisters to our neighbours. Standing before the manger, we understand that the food of life is not material riches but love, not gluttony but charity, not ostentation but simplicity.”
A Blessed Christmas to everyone.*