If the wood of the Cross was the scandal at the end of Christ’s life, the wood of the manger was the scandal at the beginning.
At Christmas we fully encounter the radical reality of Emmanuel – God with us. We’ve been praying and singing in preparation for this event during the preceding four weeks, and just as the Mass re-presents Christ’s death and Resurrection for us, so Christmas (Christ’s Mass) re-presents the seminal moment when the Babe-God was born into this world.
What a world he was born into. In an inconspicuous place – Bethlehem (“House of Bread”) – to a carpenter and his young bride, in a region beset by political and religious squabbles between the Jewish people and their Roman rulers.
The presence of the God-Man, his very presence, is no neutral act. For before the Incarnation, a revolt and a battle over the Word Made Flesh took down a percentage of the
angels. And his birth in a manger, heralded by a star, brought about great bloodshed in the death of the Innocents, the first martyrs. Every one of us is born on that battlefield. The Prince of Peace demands a choice, says Father Robert Barron. We are either for him or we are against him.
Many writers have written about the paradox of the Babe-God. The King of the Universe born into poverty. God made flesh in a stable (or a cave). The Light of the World in the darkness. The King of the Nations with no place to lay his head. The Bread of Life, whom we consume at each and every Mass, laid in a place where animals consumed grain. The Son of God, the Lord of Lords, a tiny, vulnerable infant. The Messiah requiring feeding, comfort, warmth, and care. The Second Person of the Trinity born amidst the hay and the feed of ox and donkey. A God who wore diapers. A God with a human face. For all of these things are what it meant to be both fully human and fully divine and to enter human history, time, and space when and where and in the condition that He did.
No other religion teaches this about their founder. It’s no wonder that the Incarnation is a scandal to many.
“He emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, He humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:7-8) to show his great love for us, a love that resulted in Him giving himself entirely to us.
That God should become like one of us can be incomprehensible. Yet, he did, and that has changed everything. He became man so that we might become like Him, as St. Athanasius said.
Anyone who has held and beheld the wonder and the awe of a newborn babe can appreciate the mystery and the miracle of what our Heavenly Father did for us.
As you sing Christmas songs, visit with family, exchange and open gifts, and attend Mass this Christmas, reflect on the Babe-God with no place to rest his head. May we welcome Him and give Him a permanent home in our hearts so that He will prepare a permanent place for us with Him in Heaven.