The Wonder, Mystery and Message of the Crib

Christopher O’Donnell, O.Carm.

There is a special revelation of God’s majesty in the helplessness of a child. It is a revelation of love, the same love that would leave Jesus no less helpless on the Cross. It is in part the depth of God’s love, shown in his costly involvement with humanity that is a new and radiant vision of his glory. The verb used in the preface ‘caught up’, is not precise, nor should it be. Christmas is not a matter of cold reassuring but most profoundly a matter of wonder, amazement and awe.

It is of course the crib that will help us to appreciate the mystery. But there are several ways of approaching a crib. In Rome there is the custom of visiting the cribs in the various churches; there we find exuberance of imagination, a variety of ways of presenting the scene, often with dozens of figures and buildings which allow us to recapture the miracle that is taking place in the very ordinariness of daily life in Palestine, even if it is a Bethlehem often with strong Italian colouring. But any crib, even the simplest, can speak to us. ‘Speak’ is somehow the right word. A crib is silent, nothing moves. But even as we allow ourselves to be drawn into its silence, it speaks to our hearts. It takes time for a crib to address us. We need to stay before it, not saying prayers, but allowing the sense of wonder and astonishment to take us over. To be ‘caught up in the love of the God we cannot see’ is to allow the crib to speak to our hearts rather than to our heads, its very stillness having a resonant eloquence.

Clearly the crib speaks to us of that peace which the world cannot give, and which is at the heart of the Christmas message. The very stillness of the crib breaths a peace that can still the anxieties and cares of our hearts, and draw us upwards towards a vision of ourselves enveloped by the love of the God who came to us as a baby. Human wisdom, personal ambitions, the selfish grasping of people and things, are humbled and healed in the silence of the crib. In the presence of this new revelation of God’s glory we can only remain in silence to allow his peace some greater entry into our lives, that peace which in the end is the only thing that will ever satisfy our restless hearts.