At the birth of my first child, I experienced in a personal way the fulfillment of God's promises. I remember how close I felt to the Lord during my pregnancy, despite the physical difficulties of childbearing.
Very early on Christmas morning, I travelled to hospital and laboured through the dark hours to deliver my daughter. In the gift of Hannah's birth, I came to a deeper understanding of the events of the Nativity, when God's promise of salvation is fulfilled in one tiny, human baby.
In the city of David, a humble stable becomes the resting place for the Ark of the New Covenant. Mary, a descendant of the royal house, is refused lodging at an inn. The tent of meeting is no longer a temple built by kings, but rather a stall where animals are kept.
Here, God comes to meet man and his everlasting presence descends upon the earth. As the cloud of night covers the humble tent of meeting, the glory of the Lord shines all around and fills the tabernacle of Mary's figure (Exodus 40.34, Luke 2.9). The radiant veil of her virginity is drawn back to reveal the Word made flesh.
In the darkness, the "light of the Gentiles" illuminates Mary as she delivers the most perfect "Behold" that God has ever uttered (Luke 2.32). In fact, her obedient faith is so transparent that the Incarnate Word shines through her as Jesus is born. The angel announces, "For behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2.10-11).
We witness the miracle of the Saviour's birth reflected in Mary as she kneels beside her Son. The Church tells us that she is like a mirror, in which she invites the world to "behold the face of God" (Psalm 42.2). Now, like the sanctuary lamp which burns beside the tabernacle, Mary draws us to the Holy of Holies asleep in the manger.
HOLY NIGHT BY ITALIAN BAROQUE PAINTER CARLO MARATTA | CNS PHOTO COURTESY OF ART RESOURCE
In Bethlehem, this "house of bread," the manna that fed God's people in the desert gives way to Jesus, the Bread of Life. He who "has filled the hungry with good things" shatters the silence of the night with his first cry of hunger (Luke 1.53).
Here, the Lamb is laid upon his first altar - a wooden feeding trough draped in animal fodder. Mary embraces the mystery of salvation as she kneels at the feet of the Christ Child, already crucified by the wood of the crib. Long before Jesus sacrifices himself on the altar of the cross, his mother offers her Lamb as the first gift of Christmas - to the poor and simple and to the rich and wise.
Like an ornament suspended in the light of the first Christmas night, Mary brings into focus the two-fold gift of God. Her immaculate soul magnifies the Son of God - the Incarnation of the Father's love for the world. Here also is the gift of the cross, falling like a shadow over the manger and revealing a Son's perfect love for his Father.
St. Louis de Montfort reminds us that the "Most High has come down to us perfectly and divinely by the humble Mary," and so we must ascend to God by the same path, united to Christ through the Immaculate Heart of his mother. She is a sure guide and beacon - a transparent window through which shines the face of God in Jesus Christ.
To fully embrace this mystery, ask God to transform the stable of your heart into a royal palace fit for a king. Welcome the holy Child into the Bethlehem of your life - where the bread of the Presence can find a dwelling place, bringing the gift of eternal life (Exodus 39.36).
In imitation of Mary, lay the gift of your self-will on the altar of the manger, and join her in adoration of her divine Son. Offer back to the Father the "inexpressible gift" of his Son Jesus, uniting to him the offering of your own life as well (2 Corinthians 9.15).
If we allow ourselves to be consumed by the fire of God's love, we become like Mary - a lamp that burns from within and radiates the light of Christ. Like the Mother of God, our lives will reflect the joy of God's gift of love to the world, illuminated by the sacrifice of the crib and the cross.
(Anne Marie Posella is a graduate theology student at Catholic Distance University. She educates her children at home and works as an instructor at St. Clair College in Chatham, Ont.)