The Birth of Jesus: Luke 2:1-20
In the Words of St. Ignatius
“Only one person has ever been able to choose where and how to be born—Jesus, the Son of God, who existed before coming into this world.”
Begin with the usual preparatory prayer, and then consider the story you are about to contemplate.
Recall how Our Lady, pregnant almost nine months and, as we may piously meditate, seated on an ass, together with Joseph and a servant girl leading an ox, set forth from Nazareth to go to Bethlehem and pay the tribute which Caesar had imposed on all those lands.
Imagine the place. See the road from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Consider its length and breadth, whether it is level or winds through valleys and hills. Similarly, look at the place or cave of the Nativity: How big is it, or small? How low or high? And how is it furnished?
Ask for grace: an interior knowledge of Our Lord, who became human for me, that I may love him more intensely and follow him more closely.
More specifically, St. Ignatius proposes these points for reflection:
Point One: I will see the persons; that is, to see Our Lady, Joseph, the maidservant, and the infant Jesus after his birth. I will make myself a poor, little, and unworthy slave, gazing at them, contemplating them, and serving them in their needs, just as if I were there, with all possible respect and reverence. Then I will reflect upon myself to draw some profit.
Point Two: I will observe, consider, and contemplate what they are saying. Then, reflecting upon myself, I will draw some profit.
Point Three: I will behold and consider what they are doing; for example, journeying and toiling, in order that the Lord may be born in greatest poverty; and that after so many hardships of hunger, thirst, heat, cold, injuries, and insults, he may die on the cross! And all this for me! Then I will reflect and draw some spiritual profit.
Conclude with a colloquy, as in the preceding contemplation, and with an Our Father.
(Spiritual Exercises, 110-117)
In order to contemplate the mystery of the birth of Jesus, we will accompany Mary and Joseph, following the sequence of the gospel narrative.
We begin in Nazareth, when official notice confirms the edict of Caesar Augustus ordering a census of the entire world; each person is to be registered in the city of his family’s origins. How did people react as word of the edict spread? There must have been criticisms, protests, and insubordination. Imagine and compare these reactions with the docile, serene, diligent, and confident responses of Mary and Joseph.
Assist them as they prepare for the journey, and then accompany these two custodians of the divine treasure of salvation along the road to Bethlehem. Contemplate their every step and encounter along the way. Imagine their modesty, composure, and faith in the mystery whose bearers they feel themselves to be during the hardships of the journey. Mary is the true Ark of the Covenant.
See how in Bethlehem, Joseph and Mary find all possibilities for shelter closed to them, even the inn. Observe their measured reactions, which reflect their confidence in the providence of the Father, who knows how to guide all things for the good of his chosen ones. As their example demonstrates, we should learn to detect the will of God through the events of our lives. God’s mysterious plans will come to pass despite the obvious difficulties. Mary and Joseph put no obstacles in the way. Like the thin reed on the river bank that bends to the slightest breeze, they know how to submit to the divine will. Christ will appear in the world in the straw of a manger, choosing to begin the new era of the Spirit in humility and poverty. In all generations, contemplative eyes will discover him there and be absorbed with joy and marveling adoration.
Think about this: Only one person has ever been able to choose where and how to be born—Jesus, the Son of God, who existed before coming into this world. Amazingly, he chose to experience not only the total dependence with which all human life begins, but also exterior deprivation and abandonment by all except Mary and Joseph. Imagine these sufferings of the Holy Family—encamped on the outskirts of the town, without a house, without furniture, without human help, their provisions for the journey exhausted. How different God’s plans, projects, and preferences are from those of human beings!
Jesus did not have himself announced with thundering publicity or make his appearance in the rich districts of Jerusalem. He preferred to present himself without honors or demands and to make himself known in modest simplicity: “You will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12).
Let us take in this peaceful and gentle environment and allow ourselves to be moved by it. May the Holy Spirit help us to become attracted by the spiritual radiance of these poor of Yahweh who had been prepared to receive the good news: his humble servant, the Virgin Mary; Joseph, the just man who walked in the law of the Lord; the shepherds, those night workers whose hearts were obedient, kind, and open to the messages from above. They were able to discover and adore Jesus, to rejoice immensely in his presence, and to communicate their joy to others.
In the Nativity, greed, superficiality, and pride—those enemies of the kingdom—receive the divine death blow. Jesus lies in the manger, and those who have put all their trust in Yahweh come to him bearing the gifts of their simple, humble hearts.