As I ponder the newborn child asleep in his mother’s arms, for a fleeting moment everything else in the world fades from view. There is a peaceful stillness that envelops the whole scene. There isn’t even any music playing in the background … just quiet, and the sound of my own breathing. The child is asleep, as newborn children often do, comfortable, content, wrapped in his mother’s loving embrace. And his young mother is mesmerized. She is filled with wonder and awe while she stares tenderly at the gift of new life she cradles in her arms. Her breathing is measured and deep. She has no other concern right now but to savor the peacefulness and live in the moment. All the events leading up to this point, from the vision of an angel nine months ago announcing she would have a son, and the anguish of Joseph not knowing what to make of this news, to her visit in haste to her cousin Elizabeth and the birth of her son shrouded in mystery and wonder, to their difficult journey to Bethlehem the ancestral home of the great King David, to the birth of her own son in a manger because there was no room anywhere … all the events leading up to this point are tucked safely away in the inner recesses of her heart. She imagined she would have time later to revisit all the awesome and amazing details, in between all the feeding and changing and the quick naps before everything starts all over again, not to mention the visitors—the shepherds, the wise men, and that strange little drummer boy who asked to play his drum for the child after she had just put him to sleep—just strange. And probably her own parents came by to visit a few times, and the neighbors around their cul-de-sac. Maybe she would have time in the early morning hours or in the early evening when no one else was around. Maybe.
But the young mother would on occasion be alone with her thoughts. I’m sure she had many questions in her heart. But did she have a clue what would be demanded of her? Did she have premonitions: of what this child would become one day, of the burden he would have to carry, of the burden she would carry because of his, of what it would all mean? I can’t imagine how she would know events that were yet to unfold. We look back upon that moment with the benefit of 2000 years of history behind us. She had nothing to go by. Okay, there were the words of an angel, that her child would be the Son of the Most High, that he would sit on the throne of David his father, that he would rule over the house of Jacob forever, and that his kingdom would have no end. Then when she greeted her cousin Elizabeth, she called her “the mother of my Lord.” And when the shepherds came to them in Bethlehem, they spoke of angel hosts singing “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth to people of goodwill,” and told them to find a child wrapped in swaddling clothes, born to be Christ and Lord.” But still, what did it all really mean? Everything thus far sounded like high honors. For all she imagined, her son could have won the lottery, or a local election, or whatever their version was of American Idol. She could never have known that healing power and mighty deeds would flow from his hands, that he would restore the blind to sight, and the lame to walk, that he would cast out demons, feed the multitudes, and raise the dead, that he would walk on water, calm the raging storm, and die upon a cross.
Mary did you know?—so the song goes that we might catch on the radio this time of year. Now I will never presume to know what a woman does or does not know. I value my life too much. Some mothers might say they know which of their children would be successful, and which would struggle and stumble. Some might claim they could tell which one would found a Fortune 500 company, and which one would end up on Broadway, and which one would one day be president. But seldom would any make such claims before the child learns to walk or talk. There would have to be major signs so clear as to point them in one direction or other. And such revelations are often only disclosed in hindsight, after they come to pass completely, or they would never be uttered for anyone to hear.
But what benefit would there be in knowing any of this about the child of Mary in advance? Now we have all speculated how events might turn out differently in our own lives had we had some foreknowledge, how we might have more seriously considered the consequences of our choices, how we might have taken fewer risks, how we might have been more careful. Maybe Mary entertained similar thoughts as she watched her Son’s life and ministry unfold. But when she held him a newborn child in her arms, what could she have known?
We, on the other hand, have the benefit of hindsight. Even on this Christmas day, despite every effort to direct our attention elsewhere, our eyes are drawn unavoidably to the cross above the altar. The newborn child sleeping peacefully in his mother’s arms will one day be rejected, made to suffer, and be lifted on a cross so that we might be reconciled with God. There are consequences to knowing about the child in the manger. God desires to draw us deeper into a wonderful mystery that speaks to us of his great mercy and compassion. This is not some commercial marketing ploy to pull us in with some calculated excuse of cuteness hoping we don’t make the tragic connection to the cross. Actually, we are being drawn gently to discover what God is doing. And when we know, we cannot un-know. It is much to our advantage to grasp why the Eternal Word, the Holy and Immortal Son of God appeared to us clothed in the humble image of human flesh. God desired to know and experience personally our alienation and misery. Jesus did not know sin. Yet Jesus would willingly embrace in his own body the consequences of our sins. When we look upon the face of the Holy Child of Bethlehem, we catch a glimpse of the Father’s face, inviting, welcoming, forgiving. We see through his human eyes our own dignity as adopted daughters and sons of the Father. We hear through his human voice God’s tender call to repentance, that he might lovingly restore us to friendship with himself. We experience in his human touch God’s own love and care for us who hurt from the consequences of our own selfishness and pride. From the moment of this Holy Child’s arrival in our midst, God is fulfilling his promise of our reconciliation and redemption.
To all who carry the heavy burden of guilt and shame, to all who suffer wounds of division and resentment, to all who are shrouded in sorrow and mourning, the Holy Child of Bethlehem beckons. Receive him into your hearts and your lives. God desires to restore us to friendship with himself that we might come to know the fullness of his compassion, that we might discover and embrace the fullness of his very life. We will never know if Mary knew what the future held for her Son. We know. And that is all that matters. And that is something we can never un-know.
Rolo B Castillo © 2015