I am going to guess that many of us have dreamed things such as these, of what it would have been like to have been present at the stable in Bethlehem or at some other time in the life of Jesus. These are not the dreams of children only. I did not know it at the time, but my fascination with the crèche scene as a little girl was a type of meditation. Today I believe, like St. Ignatius of Loyola, that when we ‘daydream’ in such a way, that is, if it is in the context of prayer, we are indeed in the scene. Since God is Lord of all time and space, He can transport us spiritually to actually being in a gospel scene, participating in that upon which we are meditating. In other words, it is real.
Years ago, while attending the parish where I grew up, I saw something I will never forget. Just before Mass on Christmas Day, a young mother brought her little son to the front of the church to see the nearly life-sized crèche scene. The boy, who could not have been more than three years old, voluntarily placed his stuffed lamb next to the crib. After Mass, his mother tried to get him to retrieve it, but he would have none of it. He insisted that he gave it to the baby Jesus for Him to have. That little lamb remained there for the rest of the Christmas season. I often think of the sacrifice of that little boy and I think it was as great a sacrifice as that of the magi because it came from his heart. The gifts of the magi, gold, frankincense and myrrh, no doubt sustained the Holy Family in their need, but the greater gifts they gave were in the sacrifices of undertaking such a trip. The material gifts were expensive ones, but in truth they gave more in the preparation, the rigors of the journey, the length of time away from their homes, in the dangers of the terrain, and from King Herod when they arrived in Judea. It was not the monetary value of what they gave that was important; it was the intentions of their hearts to seek out the newborn King and worship Him.
Our meditation should not, no, it cannot, end here. Just as the kings had to leave the stable at some point, so do we. And just as their experience at the manger changed their lives, so too, it must change ours. Therefore, our meditation cannot end at the crèche. We must take what we learn there back into the journey of our daily lives. And what do we take away with us? I think that we take joy with us. We were face to face with the joy of the angels, singing “Glory to God in the Highest” and with that of Mary and Joseph, who are so very holy. We were kneeling in front of the manger, filled with the joy of all Creation, the very Son of God!
We take away hope. We have the hope of God’s promise, fulfilled in this Child.
We take away love. We have met love, who is God, in the baby Jesus. This love has filled our hearts such that we are compelled to share it with others.
We take away humility. The humility of God who became a tiny baby, and the lowliness of the scene, moves our hearts to recognize our own poverty.
We take away compassion and mercy. Neither the Child, nor His parents, nor the angels had said we were not worthy to be there. No one is worthy, but all are invited, so we leave with compassion and mercy in our hearts.
May we have the courage to approach the manger alongside the kings, bearing the gift of ourselves! May we have the eyes of our heart opened to the reality of Love who lies in the manger! May we have an epiphany which changes our hearts as we stand before the One who brings healing to our world! May we truly learn to recognize Jesus in all our brothers and sisters as we gather side by side at the manger! And in our gazing upon the Lord as a tiny baby, may our hearts be filled with joy such that we are never the same! Let us continue to meet in the Heart of Jesus, not just in the stable, but in the world! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
The top image is called The Adoration of the Magi by a Renaissance painter named Zanobi Strozzi. He was the top student of one of my favorite artists, Bl. Fra Angelico. For more on Strozzi go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zanobi_Strozzi
Next is an icon by Fr. William Hart McNichols called The Nursing Icon of the Mother of God. It can be found at http://www.fatherbill.org/all-categories/product/249-the-nursing-icon-of-the-mother-of-god
The painting of the Kings came from a greeting card from a number of years ago.
The last painting is called The Adoration of the Shepherds (1609) by Caravaggio. You can find it and also an explanation of the painting at http://www.caravaggio.org/adoration-of-the-shepherds.jsp