Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Mild He Lays His Glory By

It was a short Advent this year, only 22 days, but Christmas didn't seem to come too soon. I was ready for Christmas, joyful and expectant (not literally), and as the days passed and each door of the Advent calendar was opened, I realized that a part of my joy was a sense of relief that it was going to be Christmas and not Easter. With Christmas, you slip right from Advent into Christmas, easily -- like light through glass, almost. But before you get to Easter, you have to go through the Triduum -- three days focused on unbearable suffering. I was glad I didn't have to brace myself for Good Friday.

But Christmas involves suffering too. A baby is born, and you don't get a baby without labor. And yet, rightly, we don't have the Feast of Mary's Labor preceding the Christmas festivities. There's no commemoration of Mary's labor to mirror the commemoration of the Passion, because we are not redeemed through Mary's efforts. It is Jesus who saves. 

In a sense, Christmas can be seen as the feast of Christ fully man. He enters into the common denominator of all humans -- birth. He comes into the world without distinction or dignity, pushed out covered in blood and muck like every schmo, like us in every way but sin. Easter, by contrast, is about Christ fully God. He enters the world entirely unlike any human, striding up from death in obedience to no word but himself. Gracious legions of angels light the sky to herald his birth, because a baby is small, hidden, unable to proclaim himself to anyone beyond earshot. Easter gets two angels who hang out by the tombstone and, as is the wont of every human/angel interaction in scripture except the Annunciation, seem to imply that humans are idiots. (As we are.) 

Easter is magnificent, suffering and death and life on a grander scale than anyone could imagine. But it's nice at Christmastime to have a homelier celebration, a quieter feast in which God snoozes all day wrapped up snugly in some old blankets. Let us follow his perfect example.


bearing said...

The last bit is very sweet.

According to some theologians with whom I am inclined to agree, including Fr. William Most whose book Mary in Our Life introduced me to the idea, Mary’s labor belongs properly to Good Friday and occurred on Calvary, when she participated in the passion by perfectly willing it and assenting it; while at the same time sorrowing perfectly as the natural mother of a suffering natural son.

This idea suggests the interpretation that the birth in Rev 12:1-5 refers to the consummation of the Passion.

“A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.
She was with child and wailed aloud in pain as she labored to give birth. Then another sign appeared in the sky; it was a huge red dragon,* with seven heads and ten horns, and on its heads were seven diadems..... Then the dragon stood before the woman about to give birth, to devour her child when she gave birth. She gave birth to a son, a male child, destined to rule all the nations with an iron rod. Her child was caught up to God and his throne.”

We are left to theorize and imagine how Mary might have experienced in her body the physical birth of the Nativity, since we lack details, and some people have found it more fruitful to imagine that she felt no pain or difficulty while others (I am of the latter sort) find it fruitful to imagine that what she went through was similar to any normal birth, albeit with a much better attitude. But every tradition and Scripture and doctrine points to Mary sorrowing greatly at the death of her son, despite the simultaneous doctrine that her will is perfectly aligned with God and that she had consented to all this in the beginning.

We are images of God: human begetting is an image of the begottenness of the Son by the Father and so forth, and I am convinced that human childbearing labor is an image (not of the Nativity, which is one of its examples) but of the Passion as experienced by Mary. My own experience of childbirth (every birth is a little death) has only reinforced this notion.

But Christmas is a focus on the babe just born, the mystery of the Incarnation, and the good and homely things about living in the flesh: family, warmth, being fed and loved and cared for, sharing space with the rest of God’s creatures, giving and receiving. You never can quite forget its connection to Good Friday but you can accept its joys.

Lovely meditation.

Banshee said...

Um... actually, it's the consistent doctrine of the Church that Mary had no labor pains. She was the new Eve, she had not sinned, her Kid was not touched by original sin either, and so she didn't have to "bring forth children in sorrow." And that's what they say, both East and West. It's a pretty important doctrine, and pretty much everybody has spent time on it.

Until our generation, or the last two or three. I blame the widespread use of anesthesia and painkillers, and the improvement of maternal mortality rates. Suddenly, Mary can't possibly be any different from anyone else.

It's not really surprising that she wouldn't feel pain, given that Mary was giving birth to God, and also miraculously ever-virgin (which is theologically defined as before, during, and after Jesus' birth). And even in normal births of normal human children, there are some women who don't have enough labor pain to notice it.

Jesus is the Good Physician, so it's not even weird that He would take care of things miraculously.