As a child I used to love to visit the nativity scene in our parish church. In many ways it was a traditional manger scene with all the usual figures. But one thing made it special. There was a little angel sitting in the front of the scene with its hands outstretched. When I put a coin in the angel’s hands, it nodded its thanks! I loved to go make my offering and watch the angel nod its head. Looking back, not only did that manger scene spark my young imagination, but it also taught me a profound theological truth. The mystery of the Incarnation is not something we observe but something with which we are called to interact.
The Scriptures we read at Christmas are all about how we, as Christians, are called to enter into the manger scene and become part of the mystery of the Incarnation. The coming of Emmanuel, God-with-us, is a contact sport, drawing us into the deep reality that our loving God does not watch us from a distance but is willing to enter into the grittiness and messiness of our human lives. The readings, in my view, invite us to enter into the Incarnation in three ways — they call us to contemplate, celebrate and participate.
Like Mary, we are called to contemplate and ponder these mysteries in our hearts. The mystery of the Incarnation is far too big for us to comprehend with our limited intellects. Rather, the wonder of God’s presence among us, born to us as a child in a manger, must be treasured in our hearts. We enter into the mystery of the Incarnation by allowing the mystery to enter us at our deepest, most vulnerable selves. We contemplate the gift of our God — Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace — willing to become one with our human condition through the “cry of a tiny babe” (B. Cockburn). Through contemplation, we open our hearts to the presence of God-within-us!
The Scriptures also call us to celebrate. We rejoice! We sing praise! Our gladness spills out into song as we receive the mystery of God into our lives. It’s no accident that gospels speak of multitudes of angels praising and glorifying God. It’s no accident that we continue to sing Gloria in excelsis Deo two thousand years later. In the beauty and the brokenness of our humanity, we rejoice in the knowledge that God is with us and for us. We celebrate our belief that God “sustains” us and offers “grace upon grace” to nourish us through the difficult times. Our hearts spill over with joy, not because we have a perfect, Hallmark greeting card life and family to celebrate Christmas, but because we have a God who loves us from within our grief and anguish and sorrows and joys. In our disappointments, God is here. In our happiness, God is here. In our stress, God is here. In our bliss, God is here. In our __________, God is here. That is the mystery we celebrate this season.
Our contemplation and celebration of the Incarnation then enables us to participate ever more fully in this mystery. We, through our baptism, become one with the Christ Child born in the manger. Jesus was born in all humility, in a stable among ordinary people and farm animals. His birth was announced to shepherds in a field. No other setting could have been more unassuming. So, then, how do we make Christ more present in the mangers of our ordinary lives? Who are the shepherds to whom we are called to proclaim the good news? Where are we called to bring the consolation of our presence and love in the year ahead?
The Incarnation is not a spectator sport. It is a mystery into which we are drawn. As we contemplate the nativity in our own lives we do well to celebrate its wonder. As we ponder these things in our own hearts, we too participate in God’s loving action in the world today. This Christmas, as we enter into our own manger scenes with our own meagre offerings, we can truly imagine the angels nodding in pleasure!
Rompré is the director of Mission and Ministry at St. Thomas More College in Saskatoon.