Christmas is a feast of humbling contrasts. The sight of the Eternal Word made a speechless babe, destined for the Passion, fills our mouths with songs and yet leaves us mute with awe. Writing of the Nativity of the Lord in his exposition of Luke 2, St Ambrose of Milan (d 397) remarked: “He is brought forth from the womb but flashes from heaven. He lies in an earthly inn but is alive with heavenly light.” The mystery of His Birth is tremendum et fascinans, frightening and alluring.
In the face of our Lord we see the loving Father revealed. He is the visible image of the invisible Father. We also see ourselves revealed. He teaches us who we really are (cf Gaudium et Spes 22). Through His little teary face in Bethlehem we see His love and tender humility. Ambrose explained: “The sobs of that appalling infancy cleanse me, those tears wash away my sins. Therefore, Lord Jesus, I owe more to your sufferings because I was redeemed than I do to works for which I was created…”
Already in the Holy Infant, in the wood of the crib foreshadowing the wood of the Cross, in the first shedding of His Blood in His circumcision, we see His Passion anticipated. We see in that tiny visage already the adult face of the Son of Man, merciful with the marginal, stricken over Jerusalem, stern to hypocrites. We see His generous humility.
In His every word and every deed during His earthly life we are faced with how we are to live and thus be saved. We see terrible humility in that baby face. Soon it will be battered “beyond human semblance and his form beyond that of mortals” (Is 52: 14)… our sole contribution to His “beauty”. We see His transforming humility. In His Risen face, we shall see our tarnished beauty made clean again in glorious renovation, all tears and bruises washed away, healed in His flashing splendour. His is the face we must contemplate.
No one has ever contemplated the face of Christ with the love, attention and gaze of Mary. She can teach us, throughout Christmastide, to look at Him anew and, in looking at Him, to see also our neighbour in new light.
May the face of Christ, Light from Light born in Bethlehem, shine on you and bless you and yours for a Happy, Holy Christmas.
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