I have a warm memory about being a child and feeling snug and secure in a world full of cold and chaos.

THE MYSTICISM OF THE CRIB

My memory has to do with Christmas Eve and going to church and seeing the baby Jesus in the crib at the front of the church.  Our parish still has the same crib, all these years later, and when I am home at Christmas and celebrate mass in the local parish, I still see parents bringing their young children forward to the crib to look at the nativity scene.

All the peace promised by Isaiah’s vision is there: a little baby, the prince of peace, the God of the whole universe, asleep peacefully in the straw, surrounded by a loving mother and an attentive father and praying shepherds and animals who are too stunned by the very sight of it all to even move.  To a child, the nativity scene is the snug harness of safety on the father’s chest or the mother’s breast.  The peace and security once felt at the mother’s breast returns.

At the Last Supper, the Scriptures tell us the beloved apostle rested his head on Jesus’ breast, a gesture of unique friendship and intimacy.  This is a mystical image that parallels what we have just been describing.  When you put your head on another’s breast, you have your ear just above that person’s heart and can hear his or her heartbeat.

To see the world while hearing Christ’s heartbeat is the real

Christmas invitation.  When the Gospels tell us that it was the same disciple who leaned on Christ’s breast who later looked into the tomb and “saw” that Christ had risen, it means much more than a simple physical registering of the fact that Jesus was no longer in the tomb. It means that the beloved disciple saw precisely as someone who is, at the same time, hearing the heartbeat of Christ. As a result, it says, he understood – with his soul.

The crib is the harness vest on the mother’s breast.

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