By Benedict Augustine
“Then fear came upon all their neighbors,
and all these matters were discussed
throughout the hill country of Judea.
All who heard these things took them to heart, saying,
For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.’”
Although it is popular among all kinds of Christians to encourage others to keep “Christ” in Christmas, Catholics should take the time to encourage the Mass in Christmas. Christmas day itself may center on Christ’s birth, the Incarnation of God Himself, but the story around Christmas day, presented in the readings of Advent and during the Christmas season centers everyone else. In truth, the story of Christmas is not really the story of Jesus, but primarily the story of His mother Mary, his foster father Joseph, his Aunt Elizabeth and Uncle Zechariah, and even the distant Magi and King Herod.
For this reason, Christmas is a particularly Catholic holiday because it prefigures the Church’s role in story of salvation. The event involves many actors who must cooperate with the God’s will. First and foremost, Mary consents to bear Christ and become a living tabernacle. In providing a dwelling place for the incarnate Lord, she thus symbolizes the Church who does the same.
Mary also provides an example for all Catholic women. She embodies both the maternal vocation in raising Jesus as well as the religious vocation in maintaining her virginity. She does not compete with Joseph or her cousin Elizabeth, but accepts her role humbly and modestly. Her joy comefrom obedience, faithfulness, and gratitude. God likely picks her as Jesus’ mother because of this abundant joy that would later help her endure the suffering of her son’s Passion.
Mary’s husband Joseph stands in for all Catholic men who must protect and support their wives as husbands, or protect and support the Church as priests. He leads quietly, workshard, and becomes a model of manhood for his son and the all other men. His example encapsulates all that is signified in the word “manly.”
Although playing a supporting to role, Mary’s cousinElizabeth also has a special symbolic relevance: she is the guide and friend of Mary, and by extension all women. Mary learns about motherhood from Elizabeth whom God has blessed with a pregnancy of her own. Because of her time helping Elizabeth, and her subsequent friendship, Mary, who is still young and inexperienced as she carries Jesus, can eventually undertake her new responsibilities as a mother. Additionally, as a good friend and mentor, Elizabeth defers to her cousin and builds up her confidence; she does not play games and complain about her own problems as an older mother.
Like Joseph, Zechariah quietly supports his wife—though not by choice but because the angel strikes him mute. When the people ask him what he shall name the child, he defers to Elizabeth who herself defers to the angel to name her child John. Even less is known about Zechariah than Joseph, but one may assume he had an important part in John’s formation. Obviously, his work as a priest influenced John who would later preach to Christ’s first disciples.
These two couples are the first saints in a line of holy men and women extending to today. Even though one couple, Mary and Joseph, receive most of the attention since they become the parents of the Messiah, no one should ignore the other couple who became parents to the greatest prophet. The nativity of the John does more than simply foreshadow Christ’s Nativity; in many ways, it allows Christ’s Nativity. It provided that necessary support and context for Jesus to grow into a strong faithful man who could redeem humanity.
Luke’s Christmas narrative makes the important point that Christ was not born in vacuum. His later narrative of Acts makes a corresponding point that he was not worshipped in a vacuum either. He first had many saints to support Him, raise Him, and teach Him, all so that He could do the same for others afterward.
Christ’s great moment would come later at Easter, where He really was in a kind of vacuum being abandoned by all as He suffered, died, and rose again more or less alone. However, Christmas is the Church’s great moment, when her saints would bring about and sustain God’s Son and be an example to all Catholic men and women forever after.