We have been on a journey these four weeks as we have examined the promises made to the prophets, John the Baptist and his parents, and Mary. The days of waiting--with their varied textures of joy, wonder, anxiety, and bustling preparation--now seem distant, dwarfed by the magnitude of the reality present to us. As the prophet write: "Behold, your deliverance has come" (Isaiah 62:11).
How long Israel had waited! Many had given up hope that God would ever deliver on the promise of a Savior. But in patient mercy, God came; in the fullness of time, God comes. And now the thin membrane that lies between heaven and earth is made translucent as the light of shared glory, human and divine, shines forth.
Part of what Mary would ponder in her heart later may be the irony of the "Son of the Most High" coming into the world like many other babies born to poor parents. In the fragility of the newborn, hanging by a slender umbilical cord, God came. In the insistent cry of the baby, the Word was made flesh. God's gift to the world was God's presence, coming on the humility of a helpless, dependent infant, whose cry demanded "Take care of me."
We marvel at Mary's courage in making this trip and enduring the travail of delivering the Christ--no epidural available! This was her first child, and that can be scary enough, even in the safe confines of home. Who assisted in the birth? Was Joseph the only one, or was there an experienced midwife somewhere in the Bethlehem crowd? We do not know. The baby came safely, in due time, and heaven rejoiced.
In Martin Luther's Christmas Book we find these words: "For our sakes he has taken flesh and blood from a woman, that his birth might become our birth. . . This is the way to observe this feast--that Christ be formed in us" (37). And the pathways he walks will pierce our hearts, as it did his mother's.
In his Sacra Pagina commentary on the Gospel of Luke, Luke Timothy Johnson offers an interesting insight about the deliberate phrasing, "wrapped him in cloth strips, placed him in in a manger, because there was no place." Johnson suggests that this threefold description anticipates "the same threefold rhythm of 'wrapped him in linen cloth, placed in a a rock-hewn tomb, where no one had yet been laid' (25:53) so that birth and burial mirror each other" (53).
God's self-giving in the Son will culminate on the cross. From cradle to cross, God has been with us, as one of us, for our sake. The true light is still coming into the world--and our sin, our neglect, our misunderstanding cannot extinguish it. God has faithfully kept the promise. Therefore, let us keep the feast.
Molly T. Marshall
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