Fr. Ver Bust's Column:|
"Explaining the Gospel"
|Fr. Richard Ver Bust
Jesus is the divine Savior and Lord
Jesus would bring a message of hope to those unaccepted by society
December 25, Christmas Midnight Mass
(Reading I: Isaiah 9:1-6; Reading II: Titus 2:11-14; Gospel: Luke 2:1-14)
By Fr. Richard Ver Bust
This wonderful gospel story is probably one of the most familiar.
Since the time of St. Francis of Assisi and his use of the stable
with the figures of those involved in the story, we have had this
special image of this event. Yet while it stirs us romantically
and emotionally, Luke's purpose is theological.
Luke paints this image of the birth of Jesus to present its
meaning. Luke especially wanted to tell his listeners that Jesus
was descended from the great king David. He also tries to
emphasize that all this happened in real history and is not some
mythical event. Yet the purpose is neither secular history nor
even history in itself. Luke, in the Infancy Narrative, has
emphasized that this event is part of God's acts in salvation
history. It looks backward to what happened in the history of
Israel and looks forward to the history of the church led by the
If we remember that Luke was a Gentile, we may understand why he
tells us that all of this happened in a Roman world. Jesus would
bring salvation to all people not just to Israel. Therefore, we
hear that this happened while Caesar Augustus was emperor and
Quirinius the governor of Syria. We are not sure about a
worldwide Roman census since there is no evidence that such a
census took place. We also have difficulty with the dating of
Quirinius as governor since generally today we accept the idea
that Jesus was born probably around 4 B.C. and Quirinius did not
become governor until about 6 A.D. Regardless of these historical
difficulties, Luke wanted to show that even though many
considered Augustus a savior for bringing peace to the Roman
world, Jesus is the true savior and the one who brings true
The place for the birth of Jesus, according to Luke, was
Bethlehem. It was the ancestral home of David. Luke emphasizes
Jesus link to David. Since Joseph was a descendent of David, the
connection was made again. While Mary and Joseph play an
important part in the story, the real emphasis is on Jesus.
Luke, in the main part of his gospel, tells us that Jesus'
ministry reached out to those on the fringes of society. They
were people who often because of social status, illness, or
religious uncleanness were excluded from those considered
important. Now Jesus is born like a stranger and outcast. There
was no room for him in the inn but his parents sought refuge in a
cave. Jesus was born there and placed in a manger, a feeding
trough for animals.
Since this all happened in a strange town and not in Nazareth,
there were few people who were able to be supportive. Instead
Luke tells us that shepherds came. They were a class of people
considered ritually unclean for their job was to care for
animals. They would be the types of people to whom Jesus would
bring a message of hope. Now heavenly creatures bring that same
message to the shepherds. So heavens rejoiced at this event, when
no one else paid attention.
Luke's message reinforces the belief that this Jesus is not only
one of us, that is human, but also is Savior and Lord. The gospel
will set this forth for it is a Christology that begins with the
humanity of Jesus and leads the believer to believe that Jesus is
divine. The Incarnation allows us to see with eyes of faith, the
human face of God.
(Fr. Ver Bust holds the title of professor emeritus in religious
studies at St. Norbert College, De Pere.)