Two thousand and twenty-two years ago, when Jesus of Nazareth was born, the Jewish people’s second Holy Temple was still standing in Jerusalem. The Great Pyramid at Giza (the largest structure on earth) was already 2,500 years old. The world’s greatest Library in Alexandria had not yet been destroyed by fire. In Rome, the mighty Colosseum had not yet been built.
Britain, however, was already known to the Roman world, and Mediterranean scholars had an idea that Scandinavia existed, but not its extent. The largest missing piece of their knowledge, besides the continents of North and South America, was China. In 2 A.D., a census of the Han dynasty showed that its people numbered around 5.75 million people. The Roman Empire, which contained approximately 45 million people at the time, seemed to have little idea that China even existed.
In this Roman world, the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, modern-day Israel (the region where Jesus was born) barely rated. This area was not particularly rich or accomplished, but in the Roman view of the world, it was strategically situated, providing an overland passage to Egypt. At the time of Jesus’s birth, ancient Palestine was, spiritually speaking, a terribly dark place, a militarily occupied province of the Roman Empire under the ultimate rule of the brutal, godless dictator Emperor Caesar Augustus — who (ironically) believed himself to be divine. It was in the tiny (and from a Roman perspective, immensely insignificant) town of Bethlehem that the Birth of Christ, “the light of the world” (John 8:12), the incarnate Word, occurred — an event so radically new that it, in fact, changed forever the course of human history. Thus, we hear the angelic host proclaim (as recorded in Luke’s Gospel) the familiar words: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).
Therefore, as it did at the time of his birth, for us, the Incarnation – the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ – shall for all all-time illuminate the darkness that inevitably surrounds our world and our hearts with its light — and bring hope and joy to the faithful Christian soul.
Where does this light come from? From that timeless scene in Bethlehem where the shepherds found “Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger” (Luke 2:16). Before this Holy Family, another deeper question arises: Why can this small weak newborn child bring a renewal (an existential change) so radical into the world that it was able to change the course of history? Why? Because, as the angel Gabriel announced, he who was born of the ever-blessed Virgin Mary “will be called holy – the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). At this phrase we are spiritually and physically as Christians forever called to kneel, because the veil that hid God has been, so to say, opened and his unfathomable and inaccessible mystery touches us. God humbled himself to become Emmanuel, “God with us” (Matthew 1:23): “He [who] will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
When the Virgin Mary said “yes” at the Annunciation to the angel Gabriel’s invitation to be the Theotokos – the Mother of God (Luke 1:38) – the LORD received a dwelling place in this world. What the universe could not contain came to dwell in the womb of a teenage Jewish virgin. This is an announcement that resounds ever new with every passing minute, hour, day, week, month, decade, and century, and which carries with it hope and joy to our hearts; because each time it gives us the certainty that, even if we feel weak, poor, incapable of facing difficulties and the evil of the world, the power of God is always acting and works wonders in our weakness. His grace is our strength.