Christmas Midnight Mass in Bethlehem

The birth of a famous person is usually a pretty big deal in our society.  For example, when Princess Charlotte, the daughter of Prince William and Princess Kate, was born not so long ago, the news was on TV and in newspapers around the world.  Countless pictures were taken.  The parents were sent many messages from government leaders and ordinary folk alike.  Because of all the media coverage, it was difficult to miss the birth of Princess Charlotte.  Things were very different when Jesus was born some 2000 years ago in Bethlehem.  His parents had to leave behind their family and well-known surroundings in order to travel to an unfamiliar city where they were strangers.  They had trouble finding a place to stay.  The birth of Jesus was not covered in the media of that time.  Mary and Joseph probably did not receive many congratulatory notes!  The birth of Jesus passed largely unnoticed.

This Christmas I had the opportunity to concelebrate the midnight Mass in Bethlehem, steps away from the place where Jesus was born.  From antiquity, the Basilica of the Nativity has stood over the grotto where Jesus was born.  Though this Basilica is ancient and beautiful in its own way, it is not the kind of monument that stands out and is immediately recognizable by everyone in the way St. Peter’s in Rome is.  The Basilica of the Nativity can also be a bit complicated to get to.  In spite of the fact that Bethlehem is less than 10 km from Jerusalem as the crow flies, it takes a while to get there as you need to pass through the border wall that separates Israel from the West Bank.  Although the Mass was solemn and well prepared by the Bishop and the Franciscans who care for the holy site, the liturgy was also humble and simple.  While it was December 25th, it didn’t quite “feel” like Christmas.  The day is not a holiday in Israel.  In Bethlehem, the minority Christian population is continually declining.  In comparison to the Christmas Mass at St. Peter’s or even many parishes in Vancouver, the celebration of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem is modest.  When we went to pray in the grotto after Mass, it struck me that this precisely is the way that Jesus enters the world: humbly and unnoticed by most.
Star marks the spot. The place where Jesus was born. Grotto.
Basilica of the Nativity. Bethlehem.
As we have just celebrated Christmas, perhaps it is helpful to consider how we expect that Jesus should enter our life now.  Do we think that Jesus acts in a flashy, St. Peter's-style or in a more quiet and humble Bethlehem-style?  As we enter Ordinary Time, it is important to remember that Jesus usually works in very ordinary ways.  In our simple prayer, when we perhaps feel that “nothing” is happening. Through our family and friends who are so familiar to us.  At the daily grind at work.  Like in Bethlehem 2000 years ago, Jesus enters our life in a quiet, seemingly-unremarkable way that is all too easy to miss.