With the help of God we are again celebrating the Lord’s Birth, the birth of the Baby Jesus in the manger of Bethlehem. The joy of the Birth of the Savior of the World is proclaimed to each of us during this period through carols, the ancient songs which remind us of the sacred history of this event and its significance for us.
The carol is a popular versification of that which the Holy Scriptures reveal to us about the birth of the Babe. Children and young people go caroling on Christmas Eve, bringing to us the good news of the Incarnation of the Word, the news of the descent of God to earth in order to save mankind. The carols bring us joy because they are the bearers of these good tidings. We all receive the carols, we repeat them, and pass them on to our loved ones, just like any Christmas caroler. We could say that through the carols we too make the journey and bear witness together with those who were present at the great event.
We begin our journey early, starting with the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary. The prophet tells us, “Behold, the Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Emmanuel” (Isaiah 7:14), the Archangel Gabriel proclaims, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God” (Luke 1:35), while the carol, borrowing an Old Testament figure which foreshadows the Mother of God, sings
On a silver ladder
The Holy Spirit descends.
He descends rarely,
Only on Feast Days.
The image of Jacob’s ladder in this carol shows us, in verse form, that the Mother of God became a ladder by which God came down to earth.
We continue to carol, drawing near, through verse, to the village of Bethlehem, where the Virgin Mary and the Righteous Joseph “finished their journey”.
Down there in Bethlehem
The heavens burn brightly,
The Most Pure One gives birth today to Christ.
This carol describes the fact that the baby Jesus was born in “the manger of the oxen,” that the Virgin did not have “diapers to wrap Him in, nor little clothes to dress Him in”, but that the entire village will bring Him “diapers”. In this carol we discover the fact that the event which happened two thousand years ago doesn’t belong to far-off history, but takes place in the heart of the village, that nature is aglow with light, and the villagers are eyewitnesses of the miracle. We now understand the joy which accompanies this news. The birth of Christ is part of our own history; it is the event which gives meaning to our lives, it is the chance that God offers each one of us.
As soon as the baby is born, the angels sing in heaven, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14), and the shepherds play on their flutes, the carol tells us—that is, they communicate through song the good news, the same as all carolers:
Get up, get up, great noblemen,
Get up, you Romanian plowmen,
For carolers are coming,
Singers are coming to you by night.
They bring you no harm—
They bring you God.
With the carol, we also journey together with the Magi from the East, those who know the mysteries of the skies.
Three kings from the East
Journeyed toward the Star
And they journeyed, as we read,
All the way to Jerusalem.
Together with the Magi we bow down before the Heavenly Child, bringing Him our gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And also with the Magi we meet the cruel Herod who wanted to know who is the newborn King of Israel and where he was born. We end our journey with the Virgin Mary and the Righteous Joseph, fleeing into Egypt with the child Jesus, for fear of Herod.
But in the carol we also find the teaching of the Church’s Faith about the Incarnation of the Son of God. The carols tell us of the descent of the Eternal Son, of the coming of the long-awaited Messiah, of St. Mary as the Mother of Jesus while she remained a Virgin.
The Son from Eternity
Was sent by the Father for me,
To be born and to grow,
To bring us salvation.
And so the carols are in no way merely sweet songs entered into tradition because they communicate a memory of a historical event, but their value and authority are based on the message they pass on, a message identical with that of the Scriptures. And if the theology of the Incarnation of the Son is sometimes complicated and hard to understand, the carols tell us in simple words, set to music, that God came down to humankind “to save us from the evil one”.
The carols call each one of us to prepare our homes and our souls to receive God. During the days of Advent, even though we are fasting, we prepare our houses and we set our table, as one carol says. But that is not for those who sing to us, but rather for God Himself Who will come down into every household bringing blessings. This is the joy we share with the carolers. We are the hosts, but God is the heavenly Guest who comes and abides with us, bringing with Him the peace and joy from beyond.
At this glorious Feast my thoughts are on the invocation of the heavenly peace and on sharing the joy of the carols. I pray that God will come down and bless every priest and believer, every parish of our Archdiocese. May He bring each of us His peace, may He grant us the joy of proclaiming the Birth of the heavenly Child. May He grant us too the wisdom and the power to be carolers, that is worthy proclaimers of the miracle of the Bethlehem manger.
On this Royal Feast Day, I wish you all joyful holidays, with health, peace, and fulfillment for your families and all your loved ones. May our New Year be blessed, may our hope be multiplied, and may we grow in our Faith in God.
I embrace you with brotherly love in Christ the Lord. May you spend the holy holidays of Christmas, the New Year, and Theophany in health and peace.
Your brother in prayer to God,
The Feast of the Lord’s Birth, 2005