The skies this time of year are filled with the constellations of mythological legends from the gods of our ancients, but a timeless flesh was born beneath one precious star.
And we call Him Emmanuel, God is With Us.
Why wasn’t the Christ Child born to a heralding of triumphant jubilee and proclamations across those deserted lands? Why a manger? Priests behind pulpits remind us every year that this Child donned human flesh to feel our pain, laid Himself in a manger to preach humility, that He comes to us in the dark and cold and damp nights of our soul, but there is something so intrinsically more to the story. Why didn’t the heavens break open in song, why didn’t the universe split when divinity was born from mortality, when eternity became time in a pure womb?
C.S Lewis answers, “God entered into our human condition quietly, as a baby born in obscurity…because He had to slip covertly behind enemy lines.” Born in the same city as King David, Christ had come to confront the world’s greatest, most lethal and prowling enemy: sin.
Our world was under attack, and instead of radiant, celestial light illuminating the way for the world to bow before the stable, it cast only enough light for three men because our Christ Child had to slip silently and clandestinely into this stained world so as not to awaken the Sleeping Dragon who will ultimately be crushed beneath His mother's sole.
But the Christ Child did not come alone, for with Him came a choir of angels.
Robert Barron writes in Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith, “We shouldn’t get romantic or sentimental about angels, for in the biblical accounts the typical reaction to the appearance of an angel is fear.”
We have this rudimentary image of angels singing, surrounded by a halo of light, but in actuality, when “higher dimensions suddenly break into your world,” one’s reaction wouldn’t be to pause in awe, but rather to react in fear. The Greek word used to describe this congregation of God’s servants at Christ’s birth was stratias, meaning army. Barron writes, “Luke is informing us that an army of overwhelmingly frightening realities from heaven appeared” to defend the infant God.
If our Lord was tempted as a man, imagine if Satan unearthed Him as a vulnerable newborn found not in a palace, or a temple, but a manger, which translates “to eat” in French. (“Eat my flesh” John 6:54). Joseph sought refuge in an inn, but Fulton Sheen writes, “what is an inn, but the gathering place of public opinion…what is a stable, but the place of outcasts, the refuge of beasts, and the shelter of the valueless…Divinity is always found where you least expect it.” He continues in the classic, God’s World and Our Place In It:
“No one would have expected that the One whose fingers could stop the turning of Arcturus would be smaller than the head of an ox; that He who could hurl the ball of fire into the heavens would one day be warmed by the breath of beasts; that He who could make a canopy of stars would be shielded from a stormy sky by the roof of a stable; or that He who made the earth as His future home would be homeless at home. No one would have expected to find Divinity in such a condition…the World has always sought Divinity in the power of a Babel, but never in the weakness of a Bethlehem.”
No, our King was not set on a throne, and our world must come to know “that the stable is now the tabernacle; the manger is now the ciborium; the straw is now the altar flowers; the swaddling bands are now the white species of bread—and that the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ is living among us in that tabernacle just as really and truly as in the crib.”
And He’s been waiting for us since that very night, two thousand years ago, when He was a hair’s breath away from the clutches of Evil.
This is who we await.