What Child Is This?

Note: This post appears as the January 3, 2021, bulletin column (the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God) for St. Michael and St. Albert parishes.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been smitten with the image of the pregnant Virgin Mary. When Jodi began showing with our first baby, I was struck with a notion that may be foreign to women undergoing the physical changes that accompany incubating new humans, but that hopefully has occurred to other men: Pregnant women are beautiful. The glow of the expecting mother is long established and oft reported, but the bodily transformation is no less captivating. A luminous mother-to-be, her belly impossibly round with child, calls to mind the miraculous, celestial beauty of the stars and planets—even drawing us into orbit around her.

The Pregnant Virgin Mary

This is appropriate, since she bears the future of the species, the planet, even the universe, within her womb.

If that’s true of my bride, it’s truer for our Blessed Mother. Mary’s circumstance was more difficult than most first pregnancies, but her trust and her joy were no doubt more complete. I see this young woman, innocent and unassuming, bearing the changes and challenges confronting her with simplicity and obedience, radiating the life of God within her while pouring herself out in service to her cousin, Elizabeth, and later, to her husband Joseph.

Do you see her, too? Is she not beautiful?

And then one night, her Child is born. Even in a stable, she is beautiful, as only a newly delivered mother can be, glistening, exhausted, laughing and content, her Son warm upon her breast. Even the animals are hushed around her as the infant nurses and naps—and are you not drawn close, with Joseph, to gaze in love upon these two?

Who am I in this scene, in my mind’s eye? One of the Magi, perhaps: the wisest of the Wise, bearing lavish gifts for the King of Kings? It seems more likely I’m an ox or an ass, dumbstruck by the events before me, mindless munching hay.

Lord, let me at least be a shepherd, unworldly and poor in spirit, living in quiet anonymity, invited by angels to see you face to face!

But no. I am too soft to be a shepherd, more selfish than self-reliant, crying and complaining, demanding the world be as I want it, when I want it.

I am the baby.

I wriggle and cry. I blink open my eyes, and slowly focus on a face—her face—dark-eyed, pure and peaceful, softly smiling. I gaze at her a long while and cease my struggling and tears. Then, slowly, I look around me. I am surrounded by saints: regal and shabby, wise and foolish, of all nations and all ages. They are drawn to my Mother and her child, and they are watching over me, praying for me, lifting me up.

For all my flaws and brokenness, I am an image of the living God, a tiny Christ. I am the baby this cold winter’s night—helpless, but not hopeless. Amen!

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