Transcription of Homily
We might find these words predictable by now, we’ve heard them so many times. We perhaps are not shocked by the fact that that there’s a child to be found in a manger doesn’t really make much sense. I mean, what does a manger? We think of it is something like this; well, a manger is a feed box. So that’s the sign, there will be a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes in a feed box; in a feeding trough. So that’s a little out of the ordinary, something that is also pointing towards something else.
When we take into account where this takes place, this takes place in Bethlehem, the city of David. Bethlehem, which means the house of bread. And the shepherds that were pastoring their sheep around Bethlehem, they were entrusted with breeding, raising, and then delivering the sheep to the Temple for slaughter. So these were the sheep, then that would be as a vicarious offering, offered to God, for sin. So our Lord then chooses all of these details, to kind of converge on this one mysterious night.
And, as we heard this beautiful reading from Luke in Chapter 2, this birth of a king, we know that at the same time, there’s not the same silence and peace in Jerusalem. Jerusalem is in a tizzy over the portent of the birth of this king. Herod is so afraid of arrival, he has his scholars investigate the scriptures. Who is this King? What can we know about him? He’s afraid, he’s insecure. He’s filled with consternation, and this is very revealing. Bethlem could never rival Jerusalem. This king comes dressed in hiddenness, in weakness, in poverty, and if this is a threat to Herod, this says a lot about Herod himself.
What did his scholars find when he told them to investigate the scriptures and they found in Micha, the Book of Micah: and you Bethlehem in the land of Judah are by no means least among the rulers of Judah, for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel. There’s that word Shepherd, not just govern, some translations say govern, but the word it means to shepherd to lead to pasture. And these are this the task of a king.
Plato says that a monarch’s first duty is service not to be served, but to serve. When our Lord comes, He appears to the shepherds who are kind of a symbol of Him, so to say, and He comes in all of this simplicity in this poverty in this need, and He’s God at the same time. This is a scandal This is a shock. Imagine the Eternal Word is made flesh and doesn’t know how to speak. And He has subjected Himself to this. If you go to St. Mary Major, and you’ll see this medallion mosaic above the altar. And it’s an empty throne, and on it is a crown and a scepter, and below is the altar and below that is precisely the feedbacks that Christ was laid in after His birth, indicating that He had abandoned heaven in a certain sense in order to take upon Himself our nature, for what? He came that, He says, He came that we may have life and life to the full. And He does this through His death. And so all of these things, all of these details surrounding His birth, are going to point to this death, the sacrificial death of the Lamb of God.
And this is what we can even call divine obedience. When He comes as a baby, He obeys that he obeys the nature of a baby, He needs to be taken care of. He decided to require help. He could have come triumphantly. He could have come in the full stature of a man, but He chose to come in the helplessness and the defenselessness of an infant. And He teaches us that the pasture to which He’s going to lead us as the Good Shepherd is not some utopia. It’s not some better world that we’re going to find here in this life through some socio-economic program. But He’s going to shepherd us and lead us to the pasture of His own heart, that He is really the bourbon pasture, to which He wants to lead us.
If you remember, in Genesis, when the patriarch Isaac, blesses Jacob, he says the following: the fragrance of my son is like the fragrance of a teeming field of wheat. And in this exclamation of a proud father, who’s speaking about his son, we also see sentiments of God the Father and His love for His own only begotten Son. He is the model of paternity is also the model of a ruler. He is the model of what it is to be a father. And He gives Him this mission, He gives His Son this mission, to take upon Himself our flesh, and ultimately, to become the Eucharist for us precisely there in the House of Bread. And ever since the incarnation, the delight and the joy of the Father is manifest and can’t be separated from the mission the Father gives to His Son who is to become the Bread of Life. If you understand the, we think about the process of harvesting wheat, and how it has to be crushed, destroyed basically, in order to become something that will feed us. Our Lord submits Himself to something similar. He puts Himself through this the anguish of our existence and the passion, precisely to become Bread of Life for us.
Perhaps you’ve seen some Byzantine icons of the Nativity. Christ is wrapped up in the swaddling clothes and you can only see a part of his face, he looks almost like a mummy. And that’s on purpose. Because the swaddling clothes then are pointing towards what He’s going to be wrapped up is his burial shroud. In other words, the death of Christ is already showing itself in His birth. Only one person was born to die, and that’s Jesus Christ in order to give us life, He says we were born to have life and life to the full. He was born to die. And He shows us all of these details that surround this miraculous birth. To show us that, yes, His pain is suffering, the poverty is indigence, all of these things that would be would be a scandal and a shock to worldly-minded people do not have the last word he transforms all of that. He transformed sorrow into hope and joy. He transforms pain into eternal life. And it’s only because of the incarnation, it is only because of this miraculous birth, and His coming to be one of us, not pretending but truly one of us without ceasing to be God. And this is our king. This is our shepherd, come let us adore Him.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, the Holy Ghost. Amen