What Child is This?
We try to understand the mystery of the Incarnation, the Word made flesh, in the Christmas season, but it’s beyond our understanding. Yet the carols, the art, the scriptures, the liturgy, the customs of the season keep reflecting on it.
This morning we sang “What Child is this?” remembering the shepherds and the angels from Luke’s gospel, who greeted “with anthems sweet” the Child on Mary’s lap, sleeping. We sang of the “Silent Word”, pleading for us–John’s gospel. “So bring him incense, gold and myrrh.“ We join the magi from Matthew’s gospel, honoring him.
Looking through some portrayals of the Nativity recently, I noticed how some 15th century artists influenced by St. Bridget of Sweden’s visions have Mary and Joseph adoring the Child, not in a stable, but on the bare earth, which he has come to save.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John’ gospel for today is the inspiration for our Mary Garden. Mary holds her Child up to creation, symbolized by the garden, the Silent Word who blesses all.
God’s love sent him, John writes in his 1st Letter, repeating the Prologue of his gospel: It was not a show of power, but a revelation of love. “In this way the love of God was revealed to us:
God sent his only-begotten Son into the world
so that we might have life through him.”
How can we understand it? St. Maximus the Confessor says that God comes among us according to our capacity to receive him. God adapts his coming to us, his love is an adaptable love:
“The Word of God, born once in the flesh (such is his kindness and his goodness), is always willing to be born spiritually in those who desire him. In them he is born as an infant as he fashions himself in them by means of their virtues. He reveals himself to the extent that he knows someone is capable of receiving him. He diminishes the revelation of his glory not out of selfishness but because he recognizes the capacity and resources of those who desire to see him. Yet, in the transcendence of mystery, he always remains invisible to all.
For this reason the apostle Paul, reflecting on the power of the mystery, said: Jesus Christ, yesterday and today: he remains the same for ever. For he understood the mystery as ever new, never growing old through our understanding of it.”
An adaptable, respectful love. That’s the way God loves us. That’s the way to love others.