Jesus' Birth Reveals the Depth of God's Love

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Mystical Nativity - by Sandro Botticelli - from National Gallery, London .  .  .  .

This depiction of the Nativity is certainly unconventional, and does not simply represent the traditional events of the birth of Jesus and the adoration of the shepherds and the Magi or Wise Men. Rather it is a vision of these events inspired by the prophecies in the Revelation of Saint John.  Botticelli has underlined the non-realism of the picture by including Latin and Greek texts, and by adopting the conventions of medieval art, such as discrepancies in scale, for symbolic ends. The Virgin Mary, adoring a gigantic infant Jesus, is so large that were she to stand she could not fit under the thatch roof of the stable. They are, of course, the holiest and the most important persons in the painting.

The angels carry olive branches, which two of them have presented to the men they embrace in the foreground. These men, as well as the presumed shepherds in their short hooded garments on the right and the long-gowned Magi on the left, are all crowned with olive, an emblem of peace. The scrolls wound about the branches in the foreground, combined with some of those held by the angels dancing in the sky, read: 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men' (Luke 2:14). As angels and men move ever closer, from right to left, to embrace, little devils scatter into holes in the ground. The scrolls held by the angels pointing to the crib once read: `Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world' the words of John the Baptist presenting Christ (John 1:29). Above the stable roof the sky has opened to reveal the golden light of paradise. Golden crowns hang down from the dancing angels' olive branches. Most of their scrolls celebrate Mary: 'Mother of God', 'Bride of God', 'Sole Queen of the World'.

 

Jesus' Birth Reveals the Depth of God's Love

by Pope John Paul the Great

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Pope John Paul the Great, General Audience, January 3, 2001

1. "Let us rejoice and be glad in the Lord, for eternal salvation has appeared in the world, alleluia". With these words the liturgy today invites us to remain absorbed in the "holy joy" of Christmas. At the beginning of a new year, this exhortation directs us to live it entirely in the light of Christ, Whose salvation appeared in the world for all human beings.

The Christmas season, in fact, once again brings Jesus' mystery and His work of salvation to the attention of Christians. Before the crib, the Church adores the august mystery of the Incarnation ; the Child stirring in Mary's arms is the Eternal Word Who has entered time and taken on human nature wounded by sin, to unite it to Himself and redeem it. Every human reality and every temporal event thus acquire an eternal resonance:  in the Person of the Incarnate Word creation is wondrously exalted.

St Augustine writes:  "God became man so that man might become God". Between Heaven and Earth a bridge has been built forever; in the God-Man humanity rediscovers the way to Heaven. Mary's Son is the universal Mediator, the supreme Pontiff. This Child's every act is a mystery meant to reveal God's unfathomable benevolence.

2. At the stable in Bethlehem, the infinite love God has for every human being is expressed with disarming simplicity. In the crib we contemplate God made man for us.

St Francis of Assisi had the idea of portraying this message in a live nativity scene at Greccio on 25 December 1223. His biographer, Thomas of Celano, relates that he was radiant with joy because that moving scene shone with Gospel simplicity, poverty was praised, and humility recommended. The biographer ends by noting that "after the solemn vigil, everyone went home filled with unspeakable joy" (cf. Vita prima, chap. XXX, 86, 479).

Francis' insight is surprising:  the crib is not only a new Bethlehem because it recalls the historical event and makes present its message, but it is also an occasion of joy and consolation: it is the day of joy, the time of exultation. Thomas of Celano further observes that that Christmas night was as clear as broad day and sweet to men and animals (cf. ibid., 85, 469).

3. The crib celebrates the covenant between God and man, between Heaven and Earth. Bethlehem, a place of joy, also becomes a school of goodness, because the mercy and love that joins God to His children are expressed there. It visibly demonstrates the brotherhood that must bind all who are brothers and sisters in faith, since they are all children of the one heavenly Father. In this place of communion, Bethlehem shines as the house where everyone can find nourishment - etymologically its name means "house of bread" - and the paschal mystery of the Eucharist is, in a certain way, already foretold.

In Bethlehem, as if on a symbolic altar, the undying Life is already celebrated and the people of all time are granted, as it were, a foretaste of the food of immortality, which is "the pilgrims' food, truly bread for sons" (Sequence for Corpus Christi). Only the Redeemer, born in Bethlehem, can fulfill the deepest longings of the human heart and soothe its sufferings and wounds.

4. At the stable in Bethlehem we contemplate Mary, who brought forth the Son of God by the power of the Holy Spirit. "The woman who was docile to the voice of the Spirit, a woman of silence and attentiveness, a woman of hope who, like Abraham, accepted God's will 'hoping against hope (cf. Romans4:18)" (Tertio millennio adveniente, n. 48), Our Lady shines out as a model to all who wholeheartedly put their trust in God's promises.

With her and Joseph, we remain in adoration before the cradle of Bethlehem, as we imploringly call upon Heaven:  "Let Your face shine upon us and save us, Lord!".

Consoled by the gift of the Savior's birth, let us intensify our commitment in these final days of the Holy Year. Let us open our heart to Christ, the one, universal way that leads to God. Thus we can continue in the new year with steadfast confidence. May the powerful intercession of Mary, the faithful Virgin, the silent witness to the mystery of Bethlehem, sustain us on our way.