The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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December 22, 2000 Issue
Fr. Ver Bust's Column:
"Explaining the Gospel"

Fr. Richard Ver Bust
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 Spirit.

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 peace.

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.)

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