“What child is this who’s laid to rest on Mary’s lap is sleeping?”
When I was little and full of Christmas anticipation, this child served as a reason for me to get lots of presents and perform in the annual nativity pageant. I enjoyed being an angel, a sheep, not so much, but the year I was cast as Herod’s wife, wow. The flowing garments and the exotic make-up I got to wear as a twelve year old overshadowed any consideration of who Christ was because I was beautiful!
As I grew older, Christmas holidays were family time and to give back to my parents by giving gifts in quantities they’d given me.
As a young wife and mother, I willingly sacrificed myself to the flurry of decorations, preparation of special foods and, of course, gift giving. I was intent upon providing my kids with the perfect Christmas with which I had grown up. Christmases which required stress before and after once the January credit card bill arrived.
Who is this child?
Over the years, stress has drowned out the answer. Gifts have to be made. The cards have to be written and mailed on time. Decorations need sorting and hanging. Once the children moved out, I had to prepare for their annual Christmas visit with their families. I had no time to give thought to the child in Mary’s lap.
Who is this child?
Phil 2:5-8: “… Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, … made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness as men… He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.”
In the ‘Incarnation of the Word”, St. Athanasius says Christ “put on a body that he may find death in the body and blot it out”. This is reflected in the icon of the nativity where the babe’s swaddling clothes foreshadow his burial shroud and the manger, his burial cave.
This child was born to die so all of us might live and become who we are meant to be.
This is the magic of Christmas.
For one month of the year, despite the worldly cacophonous materialism, the presence of this child’s quiet, gentle, underlying love stirs people of all beliefs into becoming a blessing to others. People fill food hampers, volunteer at soup kitchens, give money to those in need and smile at strangers. Christmas movies depict jaded people going through a life changing experience and learning to love and embrace others (a la Scrooge).
For one month of the year, we catch a glimpse of the divine, of the world as it could be filled with God’s peace, love and joy, and we can taste the perfection we earnestly desire.
Recently, my family decided to give gifts only to the children, and to hold family reunions in the summer. Personally, my Christmas season has become much more relaxed knowing everyone is safe in their homes and I have only myself to prepare for the birth of this child. I no longer participate in the frenetic flurry of shopping and doing for others until December 26, when I can carefully wrap the baby up, gently place Him in the cupboard with the other ornaments and thankfully sigh ‘that’s another Christmas over with’.
Who is this child?
He is what I can become.
Christ entered the world as this child and grew to manhood and perfect humanity. Spiritually, I am born into the self-centeredness of infancy, gradually become aware of others, then, ideally, enter the self sacrifice of adulthood and completion of my humanity.
Christmas, as with all births, is only a beginning. If I allow it, Christmas is with me year round. I am part of the body of Christ, the incarnation of God on earth. This child is born into my heart, growing and leading me into service to others and self denial. This child lives in me while I journey towards becoming the perfect human being I was meant to be. Like this child, I was born to die, as everyone is and like this child, I can live in eternal love.