The most beautiful of all stories is that of the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem, as narrated by the Evangelist, St. Luke. Even the hostile world pauses briefly under the spell of this little Child lying in a manger, while His Holy Mother Mary and her husband Joseph gaze at Him enraptured. As the shepherds say to one another, "Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us."
We behold a tiny, helpless Child Who is totally unnoticed by those who are considered important by the world, but Who is the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords. He should have been welcomed with joy by the whole world, but He must endure the cold and dark of a cave used as a shelter for animals. There was no room in the inn, even for a young mother about to give birth to her child. He was welcomed only by the poor, that is, the poor in spirit, or the humble Mary and Joseph, and the shepherds.
No room in the inn? There would be no room for Him in the world. "The foxes have dens, and the birds of the air have nests," Jesus would say, "but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head" (Mt.8:20). Neither would there be room in the world for those who would believe in Him and obey Him. Oil and water do not mix; Heaven and earth are strangers. (And we remember that the world is not evil by nature, but that it is still in slavery to the prince of this world, the devil, waiting for its final redemption). The hostility of the world would soon show itself. Herod would send his soldiers to Bethlehem to destroy the Child. But the Child by that time would be safe with Joseph and Mary in Egypt.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ also finds a home only in the hearts of the poor in spirit, the humble, and is not welcomed by the proud. "If they have persecuted Me, they will persecute you also; if they have kept My word, they will keep yours also" (Jn.15:20). The Church is obliged to preach the Gospel. "…Even if I preach the gospel, I have therein on ground for boasting," says St. Paul, "since I am under constraint. For woe to me if I do not preach the gospel" (1 Cor.9:16,17). And woe to the Church if she were to lay aside the preaching of the Gospel in order to court the powers of this world. The Church must do its best to live in peace with all men, while continuing to preach the Gospel without compromise, even though it may mean rejection and persecution. One wonders at the contemporary "church," declaring itself the servant of the world, and breaking into paeans of praise for the accomplishments of man, ingratiating itself with U.N.'s and other worldly organizations. It is unnatural for the sheep to seek the company of wolves.
The destiny of the true Church is that of Jesus Himself. In the words of St. Augustine, the Church "continues her pilgrimage amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God" (De Civitate Dei, XVIII,51:2).
There is, therefore, no room for the true Christian in the inn of this world. As long as we try to live according to the ordinances of the Gospel following Jesus Christ as His disciples, we will find ourselves living in a hostile environment. We are pilgrims; here we have no lasting home. It is easy to find friends and lovers on that broad and easy path that leads to destruction. Friendships that are based on worldly interests alone are often only friendships of convenience that lead one away from God and into sin. But on our way to eternal life we travel with the best of companions - Jesus Christ, Who is with us all days, even to the end of the world, and Mary, who embraces us as her children, and Joseph, who defends us and guides us,and the saints of all time who pray for our salvation, as well as the angels who guard us and go into battle for us. But we also have one another, those of us who have chosen to follow the narrow path marked out for us by the Gospel, the path that leads to eternal life.
Even so, we may sometimes be tempted to feel alone and abandoned, as some do especially at Christmas. Who are we but an insignificant and "rag tag" group of wayfarers? Who would care if some worldly authority came by next week and shut us down, as they finally did to Jesus and His little flock? Well, Jesus assured His little band of disciples, "Do not be afraid, little flock, for it has pleased your Father to give you the kingdom" (Lk.12:32).
Psalm 71 (72) gives us an idea of how the Messiah looks after His flock on its way to its eternal destiny:
"May he endure as long as the sun, and like the moon through all generations. He shall be like rain coming down on the meadow, like showers watering the earth. Justice shall flower in his days, and profound peace, till the moon be no more. May he rule from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth… For he shall rescue the poor man when he cries out, and the afflicted when he has no one to help him. He shall have pity for the lowly and the poor; the lives of the poor he shall save. From fraud and violence he shall redeem them, and precious shall their blood be in his sight."
Perhaps we should dwell today only on the beauty of the Christmas story, upon Christmas carols and presents, decorated trees and family gatherings. But beautiful as the Christmas story is, we must remember that things were not all that comfortable for Mary and Joseph and the newborn Child. And this was nothing compared to the sorrows and trials they were yet to face. But in the midst of it all, they had that peace in their hearts - the peace the angels sang about, "peace to men of good will." "Men of good will" - these are again the poor in spirit, those who believe in the Son of God and obey His word. May that same peace dwell in our hearts this day and endure until we reach the Kingdom of our inheritance promised us by the Lord.
Nos cum prole pia benedicat Virgo Maria! May the Virgin Mary bless us with her holy Child! And may the peace of which the angels sang be yours this Christmas and always, through the bountiful goodness of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!