The Manger and the Nails

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      For Lent, a group of seminarians began once a week to practice a prayer devotion known as Lectio Divina.  This method of prayer is one that focuses on deep reflection over a passage from the bible, from a song, a work of art, or other religious works; discovering what God is trying to tell us through it; and prayer over the reading or work.  Being Lent, my expectations were that the verses chosen would be ones that focused on the suffering of Christ.  So I was surprised to find that the first reading was from the second chapter in the Gospel of Luke, which is part of the Nativity story: 

8 And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; 11 for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!”[a]

15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.”16 And they went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it they made known the saying which had been told them concerning this child; 18 and all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

     After reading through these verses for a time, I began to realize that certain parts were sticking out to me.  “Be not afraid.”  “And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God.”  “But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.”  While reflecting and praying over these, I continued to be bombarded by a song stuck in my head from the seminary Schola practice that had concluded recently, a beautiful rendition of “Ah, Holy Jesus.”  I continued to envision myself in the shepherds’ shoes as they approached the manger carrying the infant with this song as the soundtrack for the scene, and the power of the scene hit me: even as these shepherds give glory to Christ, they condemn him through their sins.

                                                  Ah, holy Jesus, how hast Thou offended,
                                                  That man to judge Thee hath in hate pretended?
                                                  By foes derided, by Thine own rejected,
                                                  O most afflicted.

     You see, these men at this time are full of admiration and love for Christ.  How would they have reacted to the crucifixion of this child that they had been told of by angels? Would they have doubted what the angels had told them, that this was the Messiah, the savior who had been foretold of in scripture? And when he rose again, what joy they must have felt, only to have that joy dashed to pieces again when they learned that the reason this man, whom they had known as a baby, had died in such a gruesome, painful, and inhumane way because of their sinful ways, ways that they knew were wrong but they did anyway?  The reason that this beautiful child was given to the world, was incarnated for us, was only because of his eventual death for our own sins as the sacrificial lamb.  If I were to be in their shoes, my shame and guilt would be almost unbearable.  Although I don’t have to be in their shoes.  My own shoes hold the feet of a sinner, one who takes pleasure in hammering nails into God himself.  What consolation is there for us?  In the eyes of the world, in the eyes of God, one who is at fault in the death of another is seen as the lowest of criminals.

                                                      Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon Thee?
                                                      Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone Thee.
                                                      ’Twas I, Lord, Jesus, I it was denied Thee!
                                                      I crucified Thee.

     And yet, even though this Lenten viewpoint of the Nativity story can cast a shadow of gloom and sorrow over our hearts, the Advent virtue of hope rings loud and clear through the message of the angels earlier in the passage.   “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people.”  Though we are guilty, we have no need to be afraid because we know that God is all-merciful.  We are called to reexamine our lives so as to discover what is keeping us from fully adoring Christ as we should.  We are in need of the sacraments, particularly that of Confession, so as to receive the graces that will continue to guide us away from sin and towards eventual union with God.  We strive through these graces to live lives that will promote holiness in ourselves and those around us.  

     Our sins do not keep us from adoring you, Lord Jesus.  They are a call to ever love you more and more so as to overcome our human condition.  Realizing that I am a sinner, I come to you in adoration, placing my sins in front of you like the wise men later would place their own gifts in front of you, like the boy would give his five loaves and two fish for you to feed the 5,000, like the woman would give expensive oil in an alabaster jar to annoint you with.  I ask that these sins be not a barrier from adoring you, but rather an invitation to conversion and much-needed grace that will carry me closer to You, for without Your grace, I can do nothing.  

                                              Therefore, kind Jesus, since I cannot pay Thee,
                                              I do adore Thee, and will ever pray Thee,
                                              Think on Thy pity and Thy love unswerving,
                                              Not my deserving.