A Merry and Blessed Christmas!
Many of the churches I've been to at Christmastime have a nativity display, often centered in front of the altar. At Christmas Mass this year, I found my eyes draw upward from the baby Jesus, and I was looking up at the crucified Christ. There was the beginning and end - the alpha and omega, if you will - of Jesus' earthly life. The first day and the last.
We look on our children with hope, seeing so much potential for them. Could Mary have possibly imagined the greatness her Son would achieve? Could she have imagined the pain He would suffer to win it for all of us?
Before an angel of God told Abraham to spare his son Isaac, Abraham promised his son that God would provide a lamb for sacrifice. Just as an angel announced earthly salvation for Isaac, an angel announced to Mary eternal salvation for all of us. Perhaps the very same messenger came to them both.
There at the foot of the cross, in the manager, is the innocent lamb that was promised. We cannot forget that years later, the creche leads to the cross. Bethlehem is the beginning of a journey that leads to Calvary. The king that was awaited came not bearing a sword and leading an army to triumph; he came in a manager, born swaddled beside his mother to die quite the same way.
That is the first Christmas gift - not the gold, frankincense and myrrh that came days later, but the birth of the lamb. Christ was born to die and conquer death, to descend to hell only to break out three days later in triumph.
And He began in that manger - a tiny baby at Mary's feet. His first steps taken in the coming year, so that He could bear the last steps under the cross.