Posted by: Titus Presler | December 24, 2011

Madonna and Child: Meditation for Christmas Day

“And Mary gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7).

A  few days before Christmas I was scurrying around an art supply store for a Christmas project.  I stopped in mid-stride.  There at the end of an aisle a woman was sitting on a crate.  Around her were cardboard boxes and picture frames left by the frenzy of shoppers, but she was at peace and totally preoccupied, because she had in her lap a baby.

She might have been from Africa, but she could have been born and brought up anywhere.  I couldn’t see the baby for all the little blankets, but I knew a baby was there.  The mother was stroking her baby’s face, letting her child know that mother was there, that the child was loved and cared for. 

I was arrested mid-stride by the peace, the tenderness, the mother’s devotion.  Presently, the mother looked up and caught my eye.  There was no point in pretending that I wasn’t staring, so I smiled to let her know I saw the beauty.  She smiled back and returned to her child.

I went on my way knowing that what had arrested me was Madonna and Child: not only the reminder of the mother Mary and infant Jesus who are luminous for us today, but the conviction that Mary and Jesus were aware of the mother and child at the end of the aisle.  Here in the art store, this madonna and child were to be treasured as infinitely precious, cherished as a sacrament of God, lifted up as a sign of what it is to be human.

That is what the Christmas story of God’s love does to us.  It changes us even as we hear it.  It changes how we look at God.  It changes how we look at ourselves and one another.  If God treasures us that much, maybe we can treasure ourselves.  If God sees us as so precious, maybe we ought to take another look at ourselves and at one another.  Our problem most of the time is not that we think too much of ourselves, but that we think too little of ourselves; not that we overrate ourselves as something we are not, but that we underrate ourselves as less that we are.

That affects how we see other people as well.  If we feel “less than,” we’re likely to be anxious about whether others are “less than” or “more than” ourselves.  Given our insecurity, we usually wish “less than,” and from that stem our sins, petty and otherwise.

Jesus was and is the great sign, God’s great and loving intervention in the human story.  God intervenes with an embrace,  invites us to join in extending the embrace.

We have been watching.  Behold now our friend and savior.  Prepare him room.  Watch for his invitation.  And give thanks.

This meditation is adapted from Titus Presler’s “Alert for Signs: Seeing and Praying through Advent” (Forward Movement Publications). 

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