Today is the vigil of the Nativity of the True Messiah. This astonishing, unprecedented event, alas, has nothing to do with Christmas today. Christmas as understood by anyone several hundred years ago is far removed from the crowded and frenzied stores along Wanamaker Road in Topeka (where I live). Compared to the cold and clear and starry night that enveloped a Bethlehem cave, now about six miles south and west from the center of Jerusalem, well, there is no comparison in contemporary culture.

But there is hope: The Incarnation of Jesus, God and Man, the Emmanuel, God with us, is just as distant and forgotten by the world as He was 2000 years ago. That’s good news? In the unworldly world of the Wonder Worker, this can be Good News indeed, though it requires a humble (as in humiliated) topsy-turvy way of seeing, a change of heart, a change of mind. But first a brief look at the conditions in Galilee at the time of Jesus’ birth. The level of social and economic justice in Galilee was declining fast in the face of new building projects by the corrupt ruler, Antipas. Why the disparity? The witless rich and powerful had done it again: created poverty in their greed.

How? Largely, because the space needed for this new ruling class and its vain monuments (mostly to themselves) meant confiscation of the land from the native farmers and shepherds. In the meantime, scribes, tax collectors, and soldiers who had moved into Galilee like parasites were now crooks and on the take, mostly patsies of the Herodian regime. All this was taking place in the constant presence of the greatest occupying military force in the world, the officers and soldiers of the garrisoned Roman army. How much different are the displaced folks in shelters today, and those children in homes with neither presents nor love, hard case prisoners, the sick and the dying, the angry uprooted farmers, the lonely soldiers of today?

Nothing has changed in this regard: They remain closer to the God-Child of Bethlehem than any of us. That’s crazy, it may be said; no, it’s Christianity. And it gets crazier: These are the same as the criminals, prostitutes, the abused innocents, the ignorant, the cruel, the doubters, the worn out and hard-hearted, who brushed against Him unawares in the days of Herod and Pilate. In suffering and even degradation, we are quite close to the One born for us now. His presence then and now is why He was born. But, the cry of defense continues: I am not a thief! I am not a prostitute! I give to the poor! I harm no man! I am happy! Later in His ministry when visiting Bethany, just east of Jerusalem, Jesus makes the distinction between good works , and the gaze of the Love for God. He speaks to two sisters and acknowledges that the one, Mary, staring at Him, has chosen the best part. Of course, Mary, the sister of busy Martha, cleans and cooks too. But not in the presence of the Lord. Her broken heart won’t allow it in the presence of her Healer. I truly hope it does not dampen your good spirits to recall that our Infant Messiah lying in the manger of an animal stall was born to die, as all humans; but He, on the other hand, dies unlike anyone who had ever lived: for in His death, He tramples death, ridding the world of Sin and Death once and for all, and for all. Eventually He tells His friends and his enemies why He has such power and love, since we could scarcely utter what seems an unspeakable truth: He is the Son of God, He is God and Man and Savior. And more: it is this Babe Who as Man demonstrate that Death, His and ours, is no more.

The Light in the darknass of Bethlehem looks forward already to the Light within the Light of the Resurrection. This is why all Creation is already singing, and sings today if you listen, this is the Joy of the Light of the new born Babe Whose presence lives in hearts, Who enlightens all men who come into the world . Even the gifts brought by the Magi are ceremonial and liturgical, mysteriously significant and important to us all, but they are not really personal  presents . This what the clear and cold and starry night sings down around the humble place of the Birth: O Cave, prepare yourself to receive the Mother who bears Christ within her womb. O Manger, receive the Word Who destroyed the sins of all. O Shepherds, keep watch and then bear witness to the awesome wonder. O Magi, come from Persia, and bring your gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the King. For the Lord has appeared from a virgin Mother, yet she bowed to Him as a servant and spoke to Him within her bosom, saying: How were you conceived in me? How did You grow in me, my God and Savior.