Throughout the world, in just about every Church ground, or near the Sanctuary area around Christmas time, there will be a manger scene or Christmas crib on display. Some are life-size, some in miniature. They will inevitably feature the images of the holy couple Joseph and Mary, some shepherds, and the obligatory animals in the form of oxen or sheep. The prime spot of attention will undoubtedly be a tiny baby lying on some straw. Strangely, this baby is hardly ever in the proper scale of how a newborn should be, in relation to the scale of the images of his parents, Joseph and Mary. You don’t have to take my word for it. Just look carefully the next time you see the crib. The baby is always enormously out of proportion. I find this to be a pity, because if the baby is really in proportion to the size of the other figures, it will really bring home the point of how vulnerable God made himself through the incarnation.
Whether the figure of Jesus is out of proportion or not, the sentiment when viewing the crib, the feeling that sweeps over one’s heart, is often “look at the poor baby Jesus”. Yes, his surroundings are indeed poor and barren – after all, mangers are feeding areas for farm animals, and they would hardly be the place considered sanitized enough to be a place to give birth to a child. These areas must be habitats of bacteria and are places that are fit only to give birth to animals at best.
What should strike us at the heart about Christmas and the Christmas Crib is not a “poor Jesus” sentiment, but rather that God looked on at humanity and saw the way we needed to be saved and said “you poor people”, causing him to take on our frail and mortal human nature to show us how to truly be human.
That crib, that state of poverty, that visual diorama of unavailability and being closed for anything divine - is representative of our hearts and minds. We are in dire need of God’s entry point to give us a new direction in life apart from ourselves, and when we can’t see that, we miss the point of each Christmas Crib. When sentimentality is all we have when viewing the Crib, we are blinded to the fact that the Crib is in fact the state of our world and our lives. And the wonderful news about Christmas is that no place is too foreign, too dirty, too unhygienic, too dark, too dank and too smelly for God to enter in.
A priest once said so wisely at Christmas Mass that in the incarnation, God has changed a messy world into a mercy world. He didn’t wait for it to become perfect and sanitized before coming. In fact, it was because it was that messy that he came. But that’s not us, is it? We will only wait for something to be perfect before moving, wait until someone deserves forgiveness before we offer it, and wait for love to be appreciated before giving our hearts. Christmas (and the Paschal mystery) shows us how we constantly miss the point.
And for that, we have to be truly grateful at Christmas Eucharist. May all my weekly readers have a blessed and transformed Christmas.
God love you all.