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Editor’s Note: Many years ago, we read a column about some of the people alive at the time of Jesus’ birth who missed out on that first Christmas because they were preoccupied with other things. We can’t recall who wrote the column or we would give them credit for the idea. But we would like to share some of the insights that we can remember since they have just as much relevance today.

Those Who Missed Out On Christmas

There is no story in human history more familiar to us than the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago. In the Scripture readings at Christmas, we will hear once again the details of this long-awaited and anxiously anticipated event, this turning point in human history that was not witnessed by earthly kings and their courts, but by a teenage mother and her husband, choirs of angels, a few shepherds, and some animals.
There were no news reporters or television cameras to record the coming of the Messiah, only some angels singing in the heavens. There was no “breaking news” coming out of Bethlehem, only the quiet arrival of the most famous Baby of all time.
We will hear in the readings at the Christmas Masses of the long and arduous journey of Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem, the unavailability of a room at the inn, the birth of the Christ Child in a stable, angels singing on high, shepherds glorifying and praising God, Magi from the East bringing gifts of gold (symbolizing His kingship), frankincense (His divinity), and myrrh (His Passion and death). Yes, even at the birth of this Infant there was the shadow of the cross.
The Child should have been born in Nazareth, the hometown of Mary and Joseph, but as the time of His birth drew near, a secular ruler, the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus, ordered a census of the parts of the world under his domination. The census required that each person should register in the town where his family originated, so Joseph and Mary had to travel 90 miles to the City of David.
Augustus had unwittingly helped to fulfill the prophecy of Micah 5:1 that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (“But you, Bethlehem-Ephrathah,/ too small to be among the clans of Judah,/ From you shall come forth for me/ one who is to be ruler in Israel”). God has a way of using even those who do not believe in Him to help carry out His plans.
The name Bethlehem, by the way, means “House of Bread.” How fitting that the One who would call Himself the “Bread of Life” should be born there.
Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and the Wise Men, Simeon and Anna in the Temple — these were the people who found Christmas. They were looking for the Messiah, and they were not caught up in the hustle and bustle of the world around them. They were not striving for material success or pleasure. They found Christmas because they were humble people, people who recognized their need for a Savior and who welcomed that Savior when He came.
These people might not have been considered important in the eyes of the society in which they lived, but they knew that they were important in the eyes of God. They may not have understood exactly what the birth of Jesus meant, but in their humility they knew that something of great significance was taking place, and they left themselves open to the working of God in their lives.
However, there were others in that remote corner of the world of that time who missed Christmas. They were very much a part of the Christmas drama, and should never have missed out on it, but they had other things on their minds, other interests and concerns. They were so enmeshed in their own little worlds that they never noticed the world-shaking event that was occurring in their midst.
Who were some of these people and why did they miss the most important birth in history?
One of them was the innkeeper who turned Mary and Joseph away from his place of lodging. He apparently suggested that they stay in his stable, which was nothing more than a cave on a hillside that sheltered animals. He must have noticed that the young woman who had come to the door of his inn was expecting a child at any moment, but he could not find room for her, just as so many today cannot find room in their houses or in their hearts for pregnant women and their babies.
The innkeeper should not have missed Christmas, of course, if for no other reason than that he was so close to it. The decree of the Emperor had brought the Holy Family to the town of Bethlehem. They had stood at the innkeeper’s door, perhaps even entered his waiting room, but he was too preoccupied with business to pay them more than fleeting attention. He was like many today who are so caught up with business, with shopping, and with parties that they miss the true meaning of Christmas.
The second person who missed the first Christmas, not surprisingly, was King Herod. He was an evil man, a man who would hesitate at nothing to keep himself in power, even the murder of at least one wife and three sons. When the Magi arrived at his palace in Jerusalem, asking about a “newborn king of the Jews” whose star they had seen in the sky, Herod became “greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.” Fearing a threat to his rule over the people of Judea, he called in some of the chief priests and scribes and inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.
“In Bethlehem of Judea,” they informed him. So Herod told the Wise Men to go to Bethlehem and “search diligently for the child. When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage.” When Herod learned later that the Magi had started back to their own country without reporting to him, he ordered his soldiers to kill all boys two years of age and under in Bethlehem and the surrounding area.
But an angel warned Mary and Joseph of the danger to the Christ Child, and the trio fled into Egypt, not to return to Palestine until an angel told them that Herod had died.
King Herod should not have missed Christmas, either. He knew of the birth of the King of the Jews and its significance. God had given him an opportunity to change his evil ways, but instead of worshiping the Savior of the world, Herod tried to kill him. This earthly king was so addicted to power and greed that he missed the arrival of his heavenly King. His counterparts today are also so attached to power and pleasure, greed and glory, that they miss the presence of their heavenly King, too, as well as the love, the friendship, and the happiness that come to those who worship the King of Kings.
Another group of persons who missed that first Christmas included the religious leaders in Jerusalem, the chief priests and the scribes. They of all persons should not have missed the birth of the Messiah because they had studied the Scriptures which foretold His birth in Bethlehem of Judea. Even though they gave this information to Herod, they did not accompany the Wise Men to Bethlehem.
Why not? Perhaps it was their pride and arrogance, their unwillingness to accept the testimony of the Magi, their attitude that they were wiser and better informed than other people. But whatever the reason, the religious establishment in Jerusalem chose to ignore the signs of the times.
As it was in Palestine two millennia ago, so it is today. We have our modern-day Pharisees, too. These are the people who are interested in titles and fame, who lord it over others instead of serving them. They think that they have all the answers and they lack the humility necessary to bow down before the Child in the manger. In fact, they don’t even want mangers on public display or any public mention of Christ and Christmas lest people stop listening to them and start listening to the One who is the reason for the season.
There will surely be many persons who will find Christmas this December, but just as surely there will also be those who will miss it. Please God, nothing will ever prevent us from accepting the Prince of Peace into our hearts and into our lives.
A Blessed Christmas to all!

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Catholic Replies

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