Neither of them knew quite what to expect. The day was unlike any other day in their lives. The movement from one place and thing to the next. And finally this resting place.
Earlier, Joseph had helped bring her and Jesus to this cave. He had helped her wipe the blood from his body, wrap him snuggly in the white cloth, and lay him down for a time of rest.
The darkness of that place was somewhat frightful, but the flickering light of lamps chased the weak darkness away from the place where the Lord rested.
Questions became more immediate to the two as they knelt there. How would family and friends—the world—respond to this?
His limbs were so pliant. He so still. Here, the omnipotent God in this flesh. How? Why?
Her heart was so full. She so still. Here, this omnipotent God had dwelt in her flesh. How? Why?
The cool air of the still night would occasionally push against her cheek. She reached out to touch his hand. The uncanny smell of myrrh was in that air. Bitter, earthy. What a gift! Now, it penetrated the heart—life and death, wonder and fear simultaneously present in this awe-full moment.
The Resurrection of the Incarnate Lord, which the Good News proclaims, is, in some ways, the less surprising of the events of Christ’s life. We would expect God to be able to do such a spectacular thing. Even those who mocked Christ on the Cross knew this as they called on Jesus to save himself from death. God could surely do this.
But for God to die? For God, prior to even considering death or a resurrection. . .for God to take on the weak flesh of humanity? To become a zygote in the womb of a teenage girl? To be born in a cave. To be sealed dead in a cave. This is uncanny. Nobody expected any of this. God would surely not do such things.
Today is Christmas. A beautiful day. A joyful day. A day to remember the Divine Goodness who condescended to become man. . .to display his love for all people on earth. To bolster their faith, increase their hope, inflame their love.
But on this day, we must also recall the purpose of this divine mission. He was born to die.
Mary and Joseph of Nazareth knelt speechless at the omnipotent God lying still in a feeding trough. Mary and Joseph of Arimathea knelt speechless at the omnipotent God lying still on a slab—dead in the stone-cold tomb.
Today is Christmas. Christ Mass. The Mass of Christ. When we realize that the omnipotent God lies still and vulnerable in our churches each day in the Sacred Liturgy, we join Mary and Joseph at these equally astounding, mysterious moments of the life and death of Our Lord.
God did not come to bulldoze us with his majesty and awesome power. Elijah in his cave met this mystery (1 Kings 19:9-13). God was not in the violent wind, earthquake, or fire. He was in the “silent sound.” No, God did not come to bedazzle us with displays of power. He came to offer us the mystery of the cave. The mystery of his self-sacrificing love. He came to become our food in order to save us. To plant in us the Divine Life which he is eternally. This is a mystery that did if fact happen two millennia ago, but it is also a mystery made present to us each day in the Holy Eucharist.
Breathe deeply of the scent of that holy and earthy myrrh. Reflect on the mystery of this day with the eyes of the mother whose heart was so full.
Today is Christmas. Let us rejoice at the awesome love of our Eternal God.
Image: Gerard van Honthorst, Adoration of the Shepherds.