Luke 2:1-20; Matthew 1:18 – 2:19; Isaiah 7:14; Isaiah 11:1-5; Micah 5:2-5
The Story in Brief
After the Annunciation and probably when Mary returned from visiting Elizabeth, Joseph discovered that Mary was expecting a child. He was planning to dismiss Mary quietly rather than exposing her to the penalty for adultery, namely, stoning, but before he could do so, an angel appeared to him in a dream and told him to take Mary as his wife, for her child was from the Holy Spirit. The angel told Joseph that this Child, Who was to be named Jesus, would save the people from their sins and fulfill an old prophecy. Joseph obeyed the angel and took Mary as his wife. The couple traveled to Bethlehem in obedience to a Roman decree that everyone was to be registered in their own towns. There Mary gave birth to Jesus in a stable and laid Him in a manger. There was no room for the little family at the local inn. Angels appeared to shepherds keeping watch in a nearby field and announced to them the birth of the Savior. The shepherds hurried to Bethlehem to see the Child. They rejoiced in His presence, praised God, and spread the word about this amazing event. Mary watched and listened closely and pondered all these things in her heart. Meanwhile, travelers were coming, magi from the East. They arrived in Jerusalem, asking where they might find the newborn King of the Jews. They had seen His star and had come to pay Him homage. King Herod and the rest of Jerusalem were frightened at the magi's words. Herod called the chief priests and scribes and demanded to know where the Messiah was to be born. Bethlehem of Judea, they told him. Herod called the magi to him and learned when the star had appeared. He told them to go and find the Child and then come back and tell him so that he might also pay Him homage. The magi found Jesus with his mother, Mary. They knelt before Him and presented their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Then, warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back to their country by another route.
Points to Ponder
1. God's hand is clearly evident in human events, which He uses to accomplish His purposes. How did God work through the Roman emperor's decree?
2. Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem to be registered because Joseph was a descendent of David. Jesus, too, was a descendent of David, legally through His foster father and probably by blood through His mother's line. Meditate on the importance of the Davidic Messiah.
3. The prophets foretold the coming of the Messiah. Look up Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah 11:1-5, and Micah 5:2-5 and meditate on how these prophecies were fulfilled.
4. There was no room in the inn. Reflect deeply on this.
5. Jesus was born in poverty in a stable. Mary's joy was tinged with sorrow, for she was far from home and living in conditions far less than ideal. Why would the Messiah choose to come into the world in this way? How might the conditions of the stable mirror the conditions of a sinner's soul?
6. Jesus received some strange visitors during His first few hours and days of life. He was worshiped by the shepherds, the magi, and the angels. Meditate on the significance of each of these groups. Why were they chosen by God to be the first to encounter the Messiah?
7. When the angels announced the birth of the Savior to the shepherds, the latter experienced a wide range of reactions including fear, awe, and joy. God broke into the everyday life of these humble and lowly people. They, in turn, immediately obeyed the implicit command of the Lord and set out to find the Child proclaimed to them. Reflect on the shepherds and their actions.
8. The angel told the shepherds, “Do not be afraid.” Focus for a while on these important words.
9. The angels understood the importance and awesomeness of this event. They experienced awe in the true sense of the word. Meditate on this awe.
10. Reflect on the titles given to Jesus in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew.
11. The angel announced to the shepherds that the Messiah was to be a Savior for all people. This is good news, news of great joy for the whole world. Think closely about this good news.
12. The angel's song may be considered a model of praise. Meditate on this song.
13. Reflect on the significance of the manger. The One Who would be the Bread of Life slept in a manger used for feeding animals.
14. God was a tiny newborn Baby. Think about that.
15. Mary pondered all these things in her heart. What things? What does it mean to ponder? Could it be a process of making something a part of one's own being? How might Mary's pondering be a model for the Rosary prayer?
16. The shepherds, now full of faith and worshiping God, acted as missionaries who spread the message of the birth of the Messiah. Consider how these lowly men had been changed by their encounter with God.
17. Compare and contrast the accounts of Jesus' birth in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew. Remember that these two accounts are not contradictory but complementary.
18. Think about Joseph's predicament. Did he plan to dismiss Mary quietly because he believed her to be unfaithful, or did he perhaps feel unworthy to be the foster father of her Child?
19. Meditate on the dreams of Joseph and the magi. Think about the many ways in which God communicates with His people.
20. Joseph was obedient to the angel. He acted immediately and without question. He heard, and he responded. Ponder Joseph's readiness to obey God.
21. Reflect on Jesus' name.
22. Joseph named Jesus, thereby accepting the role of foster father, guardian, and protector. This is Joseph's role in our lives, too. Meditate on this truth.
23. How did the magi know that the Messiah was born? The Fathers of the Church said that perhaps the magi had inherited a tradition passed down from the time when the Israelites were in exile in Babylon.
24. Think about Herod's jealousy, lack of knowledge, and trickery. Why didn't he welcome the arrival of the Messiah?
25. Reflect on the irony of the chief priests and scribes. They knew where the Messiah was supposed to be born, and they knew that the magi had come looking for the King, but they did nothing. Why not?
26. Why did the people of Jerusalem respond with fear rather than joy? Were they perhaps afraid that Someone was about to disturb their nice, comfortable lives?
27. God used the star as a guide for the magi. Think about the various ways in which God guides His people.
28. Reflect on the joy of the magi at the end of their journey of faith.
29. Ponder the significance of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
30. Think about all the ways in which the birth of the Messiah was a God-directed event.
1. Where do you see God's hand working in your life? How is God directing your life? How are you responding?
2. How is God trying to communicate with you? Are you listening? How are you responding?
3. Is there room in your inn for Jesus and Mary?
4. Do you feel the peace the angels announced to the shepherds? Why or why not?
5. How would you have responded to the angels' message if you were one of the shepherds?
6. How do you spread the message of Jesus in your life?
7. Are you a joyful person? If not, how might you become more joyful?
8. Do you experience wonder and awe when you think about what Jesus has done and is still doing for you?
9. How are you doing in terms of obedience?
10. Are you following Mary's example and treasuring all the words of God, pondering them in your heart? How might you make time in your life to do more of this pondering?
11. Do you take time to praise God every day?
12. What gifts do you have to present to the Lord?
Prayer, Prayer, and More Prayer
Blessing and adoration – We bless You, Lord, and we adore You, for You came among us as a Man, as our Emmanuel, as our Savior and King. Along with the shepherds and the magi, we bow down before You in silent adoration, offering You all that we have and all that we are. We love You, Lord.
Praise – We praise You, Jesus, and we sing to Your glory in imitation of the angels who announced Your birth that holy night. In Your greatness, You became small. In Your power, You became weak. And You did it all for us. You are truly awesome, God!
Thanksgiving – Lord, how can we ever thank You enough for the blessings You have poured out upon us through Your Incarnation and birth? We thank You anyway, even in our feebleness and with our stammering words. We thank You, too, for Your loving care of us and for the way You guide our lives.
Intercession – Lord, we lift up to You all those who are trying to find their way to You. Please guide them along the right path. We lift up those simple people who hear Your message and obey. May we learn from their example. We lift up all those who live in poverty. Please give them comfort in knowing that You were also poor and that You understand their situation. Please help them to trust You. We lift up those who are refusing to acknowledge You and those who resort to deception to attain their own ends. May they come to know You and Your truth.
Petition – Jesus, may we always have room for You in our “inns.” May we always follow Your guidance in our lives. May we always give You our very best gifts. May we ponder Your words and treasure them in our hearts.
Quotes from the Saints
“It was the Lord who directed Augustus to give this edict, that he might minister to the coming of the Only-begotten; for it was this edict that brought Christ's mother into her country as the prophets had foretold, namely, to Bethlehem of Judea, according to the word, to a city of David, which is called Bethlehem.” – St. John Chrysostom
“Bethlehem is by interpretation the house of bread. For it is the Lord Himself who says, I am the bread of life which came down from heaven. The place therefore where the Lord was born was before called the house of bread, because it was there that He was to appear in His fleshly nature who should refresh the souls of the elect with spiritual fullness.” - St. Gregory the Great
“He is confined in the narrow space of a rude manger, whose seat is the heavens, that He may give us ample room in the joys of His heavenly kingdom. He Who is the bread of Angels is laid down in a manger, that He might feast us, as it were the sacred animals, with the bread of His flesh...He who sits at His Father's right hand, finds no room in an inn, that He might prepare for us in His Father's house many mansions; He is born not in His Father's house, but in an inn and by the way side, because through the mystery of the incarnation He was made the way by which to bring us to our country, (where we shall enjoy the truth and the life.)” - Theophyl
“It was in a mystery that the angel appeared to the shepherds while they were watching, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, implying that they are thought worthy above the rest to see sublime things who take a watchful care of their faithful flocks; and while they themselves are piously watching over them, the Divine grace shines widely round about them.” - St. Gregory the Great
“How remarkably Scripture weighs the import of each word. For when we behold the flesh of the Lord, we behold the Word, which is the Son. Let not this seem to you a slight example of faith, because of the humble character of the shepherds. For simplicity is sought for, not pride. It follows, And they came in haste. For no one indolently seeks after Christ.” - St. Ambrose
“But if he had no suspicion of her, how could he be a just man and yet seek to put her away, being immaculate? He sought to put her away, because he saw in her a great sacrament, to approach which he thought himself unworthy.” - Origen