I love Christmas. I will confess that up until last year I listened to Christmas music year round. I can’t get enough of Christmas clearance sales at Hobby Lobby or beautiful ornaments of the nativity. I’m convinced there are few things more beautiful than the gentle intimate depictions of the nativity like this one:
There is something calming watching the gentle loving eyes of our Blessed Mother gaze upon her Lord and son Jesus. What amazement she must have had through this whole process from Annunciation and Incarnation to the Nativity. How did it feel to have the first kicks of a child conceived by the Holy Spirit? To hear the words of her cousin Elizabeth at her arrival? To hold her Lord in her arms?
Did you know that Mary didn’t feel birth pangs? How awesome is that?! According to St. Thomas Aquinas, Jesus passed through Mary as light passes through a pane of glass. He came peacefully and without destruction to her body. No doubt Mary had been around other births and knew how unusual hers was. I know if I had no pain and suddenly had a child before me I would gaze in wonder at his appearance just as she had.
On top of this there is the Incarnation itself. This small infant was infinite in power and wisdom. He existed at the beginning of time in full union with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Yet, He did not deem an elaborate entrance appropriate for his ministry on earth. Here the infinite and the finite meet. At the moment of the Incarnation the earth should have quaked, rocks shaken, clouds parted and all creation come alive with the realization of the radical event taking place. Yet, he entered quietly. Humbly. In the smallest most helpless form completely dependent on his earthly parents.
This spectacularly quiet event grants us peace. As His ministry progresses towards the cross the Passion seems to shred this peaceful bubble. The Annunciation for the birth of Christ was given by an angel intimately involved in some of the greatest times of Israel’s history. Countering this is the various people, such as the woman’s anointing with fine oil upon Jesus prior to His Passion. There is no grand proclamation but a humble messenger to hint at the coming events.
In the Nativity, Christ passed through Mary painlessly without any damage being caused to her physical body. Now, Christ passes through this world painfully, bearing His pain for souls in His wounds. His elaborate exit from this world takes on a different appearance than one would expect. He easily could have shown the glory that was seen at the Transfiguration, called down legions of angels and escaped on a cloud into the heavens while claiming His heavenly throne without incurring a single scratch.
Instead, He quietly passes the people, bloody, suffering and on the brink of death. Most do not recognize this man as their Lord and those that do gaze upon Him with sorrowful amazement and wonder. His only comfort comes from a veil held out to wipe his face, a shared gaze with His mother and knowledge that in three days His mission will be complete.
Yet, the climax begins at His passing from this world to the next. The pangs that were absence in His entrance are now made present when the earth responds to the departure of the Incarnate Word from this world. God uses the very earth to emphasize His presence that day which is something to be noted. The earth quakes, the sun darkens, the Temple veil is torn, the stone is rolled away from the tomb. This alone indicates a greater event has just happened. God is using the very earth to get the attention of men. (This story continues at every Mass with incense, bells, etc. Though the windows should shake at every consecration the church remains in tact, the people still and the sanctuary at peace.)
(Painting by, Tintoretto in 1565. It is located in the Scuola Grande di San Rocco)
These signs come from a God who passed Elijah in a whisper and sat upon the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant in silence and the form of a cloud. At pivotal times like Jericho, He made His presence known through the earthquake. In Egypt it was the plagues and the parting of the Red Sea. God marks great victories and defeats of Israel with earthly signs. It is fitting then that at the death of Christ the earth is used. In order to reach the Resurrection Christ must first enter into bodily death. Like anything that has to be conquered, it must be entered into. If a general is to take a land He must enter it and emerge on the other side victorious. It is the same with death. In order to conquer it Christ must enter into it.
Just as the Incarnation when Jesus entered the world he did so quietly and after the message of an angel. So now, at His Resurrection Jesus passes quietly from the earth leaving behind only an angel to proclaim His victory. This victory is eternal and one that reaches us. Because of the Incarnation we were given Christ’s ministry in the Church to go out and make disciples of all nations. Because of His Resurrection the gates of heaven have been opened for us to enter. Because of Christ the call to become a saint increases and the path is set. And it is because of this sacrifice that Easter is the Highest feast of the Church. How will you enter into the season of Easter?
(This poster is done by catholictothemax.com)