The Word — The sign of the Lord

Published 9:00 am Sunday, December 4, 2022

On a July day, several years ago, I was backpacking through the European countryside. The beauty of the scenery was lost on me though, as I had no idea where I would sleep that night. There was not a hotel or campground to be found among the small villages and farmhouses that dotted the landscape. It was unsettling.

Needless to say, I lived through that night to tell the tale. However, it did teach me that having a roof over my head is a great gift, and that not having one – even in the context of a voluntary adventure – is a greater trial than I had imagined.

Joseph and Mary must have suffered greatly in Bethlehem. When Mary’s time came to give birth to Jesus, the only shelter Joseph could find for her was a barn. The lack of shelter is something that many of us have not experienced and it can be hard to imagine what suffering it entailed for them.

This example is but one of many sufferings or contradictions (a.k.a “crosses”) in their lives. In fact, the sufferings and rejection of Bethlehem were but a foreshadowing of what seemed like the ultimate defeat: the Crucifixion. Bethlehem was ever in the shadow of Calvary.

The sufferings of Christ are repeated in our lives, for all true Christians are “members of His Body” (Eph 5:30). Sometimes these sufferings are visible, such as sickness or, in this case, homelessness, while other sufferings, known only to the ones who bear them, are invisible, like heartache, loneliness and betrayal; even the happiest among us carry a cross in our heart.

Why would God, the Creator and Master of the universe, allow His birth to take place in a stable? In fact, we can even say that He chose the circumstances of His birth for Himself. Why not choose a marble palace in Rome, the political center of the world at that time? It would make much more sense!

“My thoughts are not your thoughts: nor your ways My ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are exalted above the earth, so are My ways exalted above your ways, and My thoughts above your thoughts.” (Isaias 55: 8-9) Bethlehem and Calvary, poverty and suffering, are the signs by which God shows us His Divine power to draw good from situations that, humanly speaking, are completely hopeless. As Bishop Fulton Sheen writes, it is Christ’s humble beginnings “which constitute His ‘sign.’ If He Who is Omnipotence had come with thunderbolts [and glory], there would have been no sign.”

Now, 2000 years later, we celebrate the beautiful results that He drew from the cold, the suffering, and the cries of a homeless little Baby… and they are one with the unimaginably beautiful results He drew from His “defeat” and sufferings on the Cross. Let us unite to Him our own sufferings, fall on our knees and adore.

BR. MAXIMILIAN WATNER is on the the staff at St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary in Buckingham County. He can be reached at