There is so much joy connected with the birth of Jesus that we forget to reflect on the deeper messages, says Cathy Majtenyi. CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz

Cathy Majtenyi: The story of Jesus’ birth filled with lessons for all

  • December 22, 2017
The scene in the movie The Nativity Story where Mary jumps off the cart after returning from Elizabeth’s house always chokes me up.

About a third of the way into the movie, Joseph, his face aglow with love and anticipation, comes rushing to the cart, along with Mary’s parents, friends and villagers.

Elation is in the air — until Mary’s cloak parts to reveal a distinctively shaped belly that only a married woman should have. Faces become ashen, stricken, hostile. 

The birth of Jesus Christ is one of Christianity’s most profound moments. The Word becomes flesh in fulfillment of the prophecies, the arrival of our Saviour who is destined to pay the ultimate price so that we can be reconciled with God and be given the gift of eternal salvation.

Such joy is attached to that single moment that we forget to reflect on the reality of the months leading up to, and immediately after, His birth. The Christmas account, as described in Luke Chapters 1 and 2 and Matthew Chapters 1 and 2, is laden with lessons on so many aspects of Christian life.

Let’s start with the Angel Gabriel’s visit to a young woman, most likely a teenager, from a poor family living in an obscure village. Gabriel delivers a message that many in the day would consider to be heretical and that she herself finds overwhelming.

Mary is “deeply troubled” by Gabriel’s words (Luke 1:29) and with good reason. She is engaged to Joseph, which secures for her a solid, respectable future in the midst of poverty. Furthermore, motherhood outside of marriage is potentially punishable by stoning. If she isn’t killed because of that, her neighbours’ rage over her claim to be the mother of God might put her in mortal danger.

Mary’s discernment and faith foreshadows her Son’s later teaching: “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matt. 16:25).

She knows what’s on the line, but she also knows that “nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37). Mary sees past the hostility, anger and rejection of the moment to embrace God’s plan for her life. And she teaches us much about God and His relationship with us through the beautiful Canticle of Mary. 

Joseph displays similar faith during his discernment. He chooses to listen to the angel’s message delivered in a dream, no matter what others say and despite the agonizing doubts that surely must have plagued his mind at times.

Mary’s visit to Elizabeth personifies the sanctity of life, from conception to natural death: “The moment your greeting sounded in my ears, the baby leapt in my womb for joy” (Luke 1:44), Elizabeth tells us. And we’re reminded that parenthood is a God-given vocation that requires sacrifice and strength to teach and nurture generations to come.

The visit also models for us how we are to support and love others in the Church. The two women are travelling on a similar, counter-cultural path in their journey to obey God. They encourage and reinforce one another, as we do during Mass and Church events. But not so unconventional as to disregard the law of the day.
Mary and Joseph fulfill Caesar Augustus’ decree to register for the census in Bethlehem, the town of Joseph’s lineage. They also respect religious tradition by circumcising Jesus and presenting Him in the temple.

The hours leading up to Jesus’ birth are painful for Christians. We imagine how Joseph must have been pounding on doors, frantically begging for a room and having to settle for a manger “because there was no room for them in the place where travellers lodged” (Luke 2:7).

How many times do we drop the ball on helping others because it’s inconvenient for us, or we’re tired, or we just don’t care? How many times have we shut people out of our lives because they offended us, or they don’t fit into our socio-economic circle, or they don’t have anything to “offer” us. 

It’s the shepherds — poor, lowly, marginalized — who are the first ones to meet Jesus by acting on the angel’s directions and exhortation: “You have nothing to fear. I come to proclaim good news to you” (Luke 2:10). Again, it’s a foreshadowing of Jesus’ words, this time in the parable of the wedding banquet (Matt. 22:1-14): “The invited are many, the elect are few” (Matt. 22-14).

This year, let us reflect on the birth of Jesus in the entirety of the Christmas account and the lessons we can learn for our journey with Jesus today.

(Majtenyi is a researcher and communications specialist at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont.)

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