Caesar Augustus thought he was really something special. He was the second Roman emperor – probably the greatest of them all – and he had consolidated his territory such that the whole world enjoyed the “Pax Romana,” with the cessation of all hostilities. Such was his success that he even called himself a god and blasphemously appropriated to himself divine worship. Thus, he saw fit to take a census, to count the number of men under his pretended divine rule.
At his word, the whole world began scurrying across the globe to be counted, each to his own town. Venerable Prosper Gueranger makes the beautiful point that the emperor gave this command, and all these millions of people began moving about, solely in order that one married couple, soon expecting their first child, would travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Such is the mystery of Divine Providence, which guides and directs all the affairs of history, ordering all things strongly and gently.
In Bethlehem, the City of David, there is no room for the expectant mother in the inn, so the head of the family secures for his wife the shelter of a cave used for the housing and feeding of animals. It was the best he could do. In the cave, the mother gives birth to her baby – a boy – and wraps Him in swaddling clothes. She is both mother and midwife, thus testifying to the miraculous nature of His Virgin Birth from her, in whom He had been virginally conceived.
The baby shivers in the cold. This is the Christmas mystery: God was cold. God shivered for us. The Mother of God brings the God-man close to her to warm Him. The One Who ordered affairs so that there would be a Pax Romana, and a census, and therefore Bethlehem for the Holy Family, is the One Who is shivering in the cold in the cave. His Mother swaddles Him again, lays Him in the trough filled with hay, and He is warmed by the breath of the animals in the stable. God is kept warm by a donkey’s breath.
How can we ever not love Him Who has so loved us? What humility and poverty He shows, to what lengths He goes to save us! Lord Jesus, true God and true man, never let me leave this cave of Bethlehem until I have understood the Love with which You shivered for us. Never let me leave until I have loved You in return. Let me shiver with You. Let me be humble and poor with You. Let me love like You.
Fr. Joseph Previtali