December 25th, The Solemnity of the Nativity of our Savior
And thou Bethlehem Ephrata, art a little one among the thousands of Juda: out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be the ruler in Israel: and his going forth is from the beginning, from the days of eternity. (Micah 5:1)
Men are not able to chose the time and place of their birth, just as no man may choose his mother or father. However, the case of the Christ Child is diverse – for he did indeed choose his holy Mother, having consecrated her from the first moment of her conception; and he chose St. Joseph as his guardian.
In his divinity, through his all-encompassing providence, Jesus willed not only to be born of Mary and to be under the protection of Joseph, but he further willed to be born in the city of David called Bethlehem.
Our Savior was born in Bethlehem because St. Joseph had taken his wife the Blessed Mary to the city of David to be enrolled for the census. However, this was no mere coincidence or accident, rather the Son of God had willed and provided for this circumstance to accompany his holy birth.
The Lord could have chosen any city: Nazareth, Jerusalem, Rome, or any other. But, passing by all these, he willed to come forth from the virginal and fruitful womb of Mary into the world in the city of Bethlehem. What merited the choice of this small town over any of the great cities?
Our Savior chose the place, time and circumstances of his birth
When expounding upon the fact that Christ was born at a fitting time, in a fitting place, and in fitting circumstances, the Angelic Thomas states:
“There is this difference between Christ and other men, that, wheras they are born subject to the restrictions of time, Christ, as Lord and Maker of all time, chose a time in which to be born, just as he chose a mother and a birthplace. And since ‘what is of God is well ordered’ and becomingly arranged, it follows that Christ was born at a most fitting time.” (ST III, q.35, a.8)
Surely, our Savior did not choose the circumstances of his birth by virtue of his human nature – no, in this respect he is like other men. However, he did choose, will, and order all these circumstance in his divinity before the time of his incarnation. And, since there is only one Son, one Christ, one Jesus, that is, one Person, we must necessarily maintain that the Divine Infant had indeed chosen the time and place and other circumstances of his sacred Nativity.
As God, the Christ Child had arranged for the particulars of Christmas from the beginning of time. It was no accident that Jesus was born in Bethlehem – What then was he teaching us?
Bethlehem: City of David
Bethlehem is called the “City of David”, being the place in which David the King had been born. Now, Christ was of the seed and line of David, according to the flesh – not only by the inheritance rights which he attained through his adoption by St. Joseph, but even by blood descent through our Lady.
That the prophecy might be fulfilled concerning the son of David who should reign forever and ever, and in order to manifest his true and lasting kingship, Jesus willed to be born in Bethlehem as the City of David, the City where the great King should be born.
Bethlehem: House of Bread
Further, we must point out that the name Bethlehem is, of course, Hebrew in origin. There is a great and hidden significance to this name. Bethlehem comes from two Hebrew words: Beth and lehem.
Beth means “house”, while lehem means “bread”. Thus, Bethlehem is interpreted, “The house of bread.”
On this point, St. Gregory the Great tells us:
“Bethlehem is interpreted ‘the house of bread.’ It is Christ himself who said, I am the living Bread which came down from heaven.” (Hom. Viii in Evang.)
He who willed to give us his own flesh as true food under the outward appearance of bread, began to instruct us in the mystery of the Holy Eucharist from the moment of his birth. For he willed to be born in no other place than the House of Bread.
Further, we point out that he willed to be laid not in a bed in a nice house, but rather in a stable’s manger. A manger is a feeding trough for animals – a place where one lays not a baby, but food. He who is the true Bread of Life, born in the House of Bread, willed then to be laid in a feeding trough (we may well say, in a “bread basket”).
Nazareth, Jerusalem, Rome
In order to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah, He shall be called a Nazarene (Matthew 2:23) – which is taken from Isaiah 11:1, A flower shall rise up out of his root, for Nazareth is Hebrew for “a flower” – our Lord desired to be raised and come to adulthood in Nazareth of Galilee. But that Micah’s prophecy likewise be fulfilled, it was fitting that he be born not in Nazareth but in Bethlehem.
Jerusalem, on the other hand, was the royal and the priestly city, the place of the Temple of God. For this reason, our Savior willed to consummate his own priesthood and kingdom there through his sacred Passion. However, as David was born in Bethlehem and then came to rule in Jerusalem, so too it was fitting that the Christ should do likewise.
Furthermore, we add the words of the Angelic Doctor, “At the same time, too, he put to silence the vain boasting of men who take pride in being born in great cities, where also they desire especially to receive honor. Christ, on the contrary, willed to be born in a mean city, and to suffer reproach in a great city.” (ST III, q.35, a.8, ad 1)
Finally, it was right that Jesus should be born in Bethlehem rather than in the great and eternal City of Rome for the following reason:
“If he had chosen the great city of Rome, the change in the world would be ascribed to the influence of her citizens. If he had been the son of the Emperor, his benefits would have been attributed to the latter’s power. But that we might acknowledge the work of God in the transformation of the whole earth, he chose a poor mother and a birthplace poorer still.” (Sermon from the Council of Ephesus)
However, to further signify that the proud shall be humbled while the humble are exalted, the Lord willed that Rome should be the see for his Holy Church. In this fashion he showed forth his great power, insofar as the greatest worldly City of the greatest worldly Empire has now been wholly overcome and won over by the true Faith.