‘Christ could be born in Bethlehem a thousand times – but all in vain until he is born in me.’ So said a German mystic, Angelus Silesius. Here we are on the last Sunday of Advent. Christmas is very close now. And – each of us one by one and all of us together – we are the Mary (even if we’re men), we’re the Bethlehem, the stable, the manger, we’re the world, where Christ is to be conceived and born and grow. Each of us one by one and all of us together have been made by God to be the womb, the bearer, the carrier, the place where God has a home. We are not meant to be full of ourselves, but full of Christ.
So, who is this Jesus then about to be born? Advent loves doodling, sketching, giving line drawings of the One who is to come. Today too.
First of all, drawing from the 1st reading, Jesus appears as the Promised One, the fulfilment of prophecy. ‘The Lord will make you great,’ Nathan the prophet says to David 900 years before the birth of Jesus; ‘the Lord will make you a house. Your House and your sovereignty will always stand secure before me.’ This is the third great promise God made to Israel. The first, through Abraham, was descendants, children; they’d be a people, numerous. The second, through Moses, was a land of their own, the promised land, the land flowing with milk and honey, a place to live. The third, to David, was of a leadership that would last, a royal dynasty, the house or line of David. And with time that hope became more and more focussed on one particular descendant of David, the ideal ruler and king, the Lord’s anointed, the Messiah. We see him sketched in some of the Psalms, in the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah and Micah, in other Jewish writings that are not part of the Bible. And so when the angel, 900 years after David, says to Mary about her child, ‘the Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David; he will rule over the House of Jacob forever and his reign will have no end’, she understood. She knew she was being asked to be mother of the Messiah. Jesus is the fruit of this ancient prophecy, he is the child of this promise. He’s a sign of the faithfulness of God, of how utterly reliable, dependable God is. ‘I have made a covenant with my chosen one; / I have sworn to David my servant: / I will establish your dynasty for ever / and set up your throne through all ages.’ God the Father has done this. He set up a throne for the Son of David in Mary’s womb; he set it up on the Cross – ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews’; he set it up when he raised Jesus from the dead and set him at his right hand in glory. And so when we embrace Jesus with faith, when we become the Mary, the Bethlehem, the stable, the manger, the world where he is king, then the great faithfulness of God is embracing us. Thanks to Jesus, we can be sure of God, we can be sure of his grace in every moment of our life, we can be sure of his promise of eternal life. We can trust.
Secondly, following the Gospel, Jesus is the one ‘conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary’. This is what our Creed says, and what today’s Gospel makes so real. Jesus is the son of the Virgin Mary. That he’s born of a woman is the clearest of signs that he’s human, one of us – we all have a mother. That he’s conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a woman who was a virgin is a very clear sign that he’s also more than human, that he’s divine. It’s a sign that God is starting something new among us. At the beginning of creation according to Genesis a great wind or spirit hovered over the dark waters, and out of that rose the universe, the world. Now the Holy Spirit overshadows a woman and out of her will rise the new Man, the beginning of a new creation. ‘The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven’ (1 Cor 15: 45, 47). Jesus’ life would end on a cross: clear sign again he’s one of us – we all die. Clear sign of his solidarity with us. He was laid in ‘a new tomb where no one had ever been laid’, and he rose from this virginal tomb to new life. Clear sign he’s more than human, that he’s divine. Clear sign that something new is among us. Clear sign of his power to transform us. So the beginning and end of his life carry the same message. And when we’re the Mary, the Bethlehem, the stable, the manger for this Jesus, son of a virgin, when we embrace him with faith, then his newness is embracing us. Christmas is a reminder, a revival of our baptism, our new birth as children of God, ‘born, not of blood, not of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God’ (Jn 1:13). Christmas reassures us that our poor little lives can actually share in the living and loving of God.
And lastly – from St Paul – there is Jesus, the mystery kept secret for endless ages and now to be broadcast to pagans everywhere, made known to all nations. There is Jesus the universal Saviour. Child of Jewish prophecy, child of a Jewish virgin, but meant for everyone. And if, by our faith and obedience, we embrace this Jesus, the One for all, if we’re the Mary, the Bethlehem, the stable, the manger where he is conceived and born and grown, what will happen to us? In a phrase of the Psalms beloved of St Benedict, our hearts will expand, our hearts will enlarge. We’ll find room for the other, the stranger. In our hearts, our homes, our parishes. We’ll want Christ to reach out others through us. It’s politically correct, these days, to be inclusive. But this is the better version. Christ comes for all. He wants to embrace all. This is Christmas: that every human being, everyone we pass in the street, everyone there has been and is and will be, is destined to be a home for God, a place where the truth and goodness and beauty of God is burning like a fire!
Jesus the Promised One, Jesus the fruit of a virginal womb, Jesus the Saviour of all. May he be born in the Bethlehem of ourselves!