This night is the eve of the Great Nativity,
This night is born Mary Virgin’s Son,
This night is born Jesus, Son of the King of glory,
This night is born to us the root of our joy,
This night gleamed the sun of the mountains high,
This night gleamed sea and shore together,
This night was born Christ the King of greatness.
(Alexander Carmichael: “Carmina Gadelica”)
He came as a tiny, helpless baby, in a remote backwater of the mighty Roman Empire, in a barn of all places. It wasn’t quite what the Messianic tradition had expected. This was no all-conquering hero who would sweep all before him. This was a little baby, the Suffering Servant of Isaiah’s prophecy.
We cannot completely wrap our minds around the miracle of the Incarnation. As T.S. Eliot noted in his poem The Dry Salvages: “The gift half understood is Incarnation.” The Infinite One entered the finitude of space and time. The One whom we worship as “Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal One,” chose mortality. YHWH, the transcendent One, became immanent as one of us. Like us, he knew hunger and thirst. He knew pain. He also knew the nearness, the warmth and the comfort of his mother. One can almost hear her sing a lullaby to her son, soothing his fears, rocking him to sleep in that most lovely of tableaux—the Madonna and Child.
His coming stirred the heavens. A conjunction of planets became the guiding Star that summoned Magi to his cradle. A dizzying array of angels poured out their joy and celebrated by cavorting in the night air, startling shepherds to the extent that one of them had to come down and admonish them in true angelic fashion: “Fear not!”
He was fully God, he was also fully human, and this is something that we are wrestling with millennia later. The Celtic Christian tradition held that looking into the face of a newborn child was to look into the face of God. God became that helpless baby that had come to redeem the world, to bring it back into harmony with its Creator, to share in that Light that comes from the Father of light.
Blessed art Thou, O Christmas Christ,
that Thy cradle was so low that Shepherds,
poorest and simplest of all earthly folk,
could yet kneel beside it,
and look level-eyed into the face of God.