Tiny Heart, Whose Blood Will Save Us

Merry Christmas, everyone!

It’s Christmas, the season when we remember the birth of our Lord.  He came into this world and we are filled with joy!  We remember the words of the angels: Gloria in excelsis Deo!  How happy are we to remember that beautiful moment in that Bethlehem stable.

But always looming above this moment when the eyes that were opened in the manger were closed in death on the cross.  Venerable Fulton Sheen once said “All men are born to live.  One man was born to die.”  Jesus took on human life so that He could give His life away.

It is interesting to note that Christ’s birth is not in all four Gospels.  Only Matthew and Luke write about that Bethlehem event.  It was not uncommon for ancient biographies to skip over the early life of their subjects.  But the story of Jesus being born is filled with foreshadowing of the Passion.  You can read about this more detail in books like Fr. Raymond Brown’s An Adult Christ at Christmas.

Matthew is writing to a Jewish audience.  And one of the hardest thing for the ancient Jews to accept about Jesus was how scandalous it was for Jesus to die on the cross.  It was such an ignoble end for one that most Jews thought would lead them to glorious victory over the Romans.  But from the beginning of his Gospel, Matthew points out how God uses people that the world considers “scandalous” to bring about His plan.

He starts with Jesus’ genealogy, where he mentions women.  This is already unusual in ancient genealogies, but the women he mentions are Tamar (a pagan), Rahab (a prostitute), Ruth (a Moabite), Bathsheba (who is only named “Uriah’s wife” which reminds us of her adultery), and Mary (who Joseph plans to divorce quietly when she is found with child).  All of these women remind the Jewish reader that God chooses many unexpected paths to His goal.

Another historical reality in Matthew’s world was that Christ was reject by the Jewish leaders but embraced by the Gentiles (non-Jews).  St. Paul often wrote about this reality in his letters.  But Matthew points out that we can see this also in Christ’s first days.  He is rejected by the leader of the Jews, King Herod (though he was not himself Jewish).  And it was the foreign magi who came and offered gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  That last gift, it should be remembered, was one of the perfumes brought to Christ’s tomb by Nicodemus after he died.

Both Matthew and Luke tell us that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the City of David.  But only Luke tells us that He was born in a stable.  Christ was forced into this lowly position because the Roman Emperor, Augustus Caesar, ordered a census that caused the Holy Family to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem.  Later in the Gospel, the Roman Procurator, Pontius Pilate, would force Christ into the lowly death on the cross.

It should also be noted that the name “Bethlehem” means “House of Bread.”  It is no wonder then that as soon as Jesus is born, He is placed in a manger, which is a feeding bin for animals.  Here we can see foreshadowed how the Bread of Life would give His flesh for the life of the world.  You can see in visual terms the words of the Last Supper.  “Take this all of you and eat…”

And it is in Luke’s Gospel that the angels appear to the shepherds, heralding the Good News.  In ancient Jewish society, the job of a shepherd was an ignoble one.  It was looked at as lowly, often done by the poor and uneducated  This serves to remind us that Christ comes for those that the world counts for nothing.  He dies on the cross, which is the death of the lowly.  Crucifixion was reserved for slaves and barbarians.  St. Francis saw a connection between the poverty of the Incarnation, where Christ was born into poor circumstances, and the poverty of the crucifixion, where Christ dies as one of the lowly.

When Jesus is presented in the Temple, Simeon reminds Mary that He will be a sign that will be contradicted.  He will be the all-powerful God nailed to a cross.  The King rejected by His people.  The most innocent Man in the world who suffers for all of the guilty.  And Simeon reminds her “And a sword shall pierce your heart,” reminding us of Mary’s pieta at the foot of the cross where the Lord gave her into our care.  She was there with Him at His first breath and His last breath.

Mother and Child.

And even when we flash forward to Jesus at age 12 (which Fr. Raymond Brown points out is still a part of the larger “Christmas” story), all of it points to His passion.

The child Jesus is lost for three days.  When they find Him in the Temple, He is teaching the teachers of the law.  And it here that He declares that He is the Son of God (“Did you not know that I had to be about My Father’s business?”).

In the Passion narrative, this same sequence happens in reverse order.  He declares that He is the Son of God, He teaches the teachers of the law from the cross, and then He is lost for three days.

All of this foreshadowing at Christmas of the suffering and death of the Lord is not meant to be a black shadow hovering over the holiday cheer.  But it is a reminder that Christmas and Good Friday and Easter are all connected.

I am reminded of the lyrics to the great Michael W. Smith song Welcome to Our World:  “Fragile fingers sent to heal us/ Tender brow prepared for thorn/ Tiny heart, whose blood will save us/ Unto us is born.”  From His first earthly moments, Christ acted as pure gift.  And He continued to give the gift of Himself from creche to cross.

And He did so that we might one day sleep in heavenly peace.

Copyright © 2013, W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

I am a devoutly Catholic theology teacher who loves a popular culture that often, quite frankly, hates me. I grew up absorbing every movie, TV show, comic book, science fiction novel, etc. I could find. As of today I’ve watched over 2100 movies and tv shows. They take up a huge part of my life. I don’t know that this is a good thing, but it has given me a common vocabulary to draw from in order to illustrate whatever theological point I make in class. I’ve used American Pie the song to explain the Book of Revelation (I’ll post on this some time later) and American Pie the movie to help explain Eucharist (don’t ask). The point is that the popular culture is popular for a reason. It is woven into the fabric of our lives and imaginations, for good or ill. In this blog I will attempt to bring together the things of heaven with the things of earth. Of course this goal may be too lofty for someone like me.

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