Since Adam and Eve’s First Sin, God had formed a nation of Israel and prepared them to be the family into which His Son would be born. It was through His Son that He would save the world and reveal His true nature of complete self sacrificing love to the human race. All of sin and its penalty was gathered under the Law that God gave to Israel through Moses. Now God intended to vanquish sin and its consequences forever. In doing so, He was going to draw us back to Him in an intimacy of unknown proportions.
In the town of Nazareth, a virgin named Mary was visited by the angel Gabriel. He announced to her that she was to conceive the Messiah, the Son of God, in her womb by the power of the Holy Spirit. Mary accepts this gift from God in humility and wonder. After this takes place, an angel also appears to her betrothed husband Joseph with the same message, who also humbly accepts the will of God. The couple is forced to make the trip to Bethlehem to be counted by the Romans for their census. Mary and Joseph end up in the humble housing of a stable, a home for the animals, due to the number of people in Bethlehem. It is there that Mary gives birth to Jesus and lays him in a manger, a trough from which animals would eat. Jesus’ first visitors were shepherds who were inspired to seek Him out through the message of a heavenly host of angels.
The humility of Mary, her town, and the method of the incarnation gives Israel a new way of understanding the Messiah. The angel of God goes to a town of which it was wondered if anything good could come from it (John 1:46) and announces that the son of God would be born to a young woman who was largely insignificant. In this moment, God is not only making Himself vulnerable by taking on a human nature, but He is also humbling Himself in being born to insignificant parents by worldly standards. In a world in which heritage had great influence on worldly success, God chooses a man and woman united in their poverty to raise His Son. In addition, Jesus is not even able to be born in His hometown. The Romans controlled where the Son of God was to be born (although God had foretold it through the prophets hundreds of years earlier that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.) Whatsmore, because of the poverty of His parents, mixed with the unavailability of proper lodging, Jesus was born in a place that housed animals, and was laid in a trough from which they fed. Even then, He could not rest because Herod sought to take His life. The Son of God had to flee His own chosen people and their land to avoid being killed. He found safety in Egypt, and eventually returned to Nazareth once the danger had passed. This was hardly the welcome that the incarnation of the Son of God deserved.
We are very familiar with all these facts of the story of the incarnation, so why point them out? Because humility and poverty are themes throughout Jesus’ life. He started in poverty, grew up in poverty, ministered in poverty, and died in poverty. At no point in His life does Jesus grasp after worldly power, even though He received many temptations. To be poor and vulnerable was the mission of the Messiah which was a source of surprise and disbelief for many Jews. Yet, the Church was born from this poverty and poverty is where sainthood plants its roots.
In His humble birth, Jesus gives us illusions to the Eucharist. He was born in the town of Bethlehem which literally means ‘house of bread.’ At His birth, He was placed in a vessel for food revealing that He will be food one day. Finally, when His ancestor Joseph went to Egypt against his own will, he saved Egypt and all the nations that came to Him by providing them bread during the time of famine. Jesus who also goes to Egypt against His own will, comes out of Egypt to become food for a world starved for God because of sin.
Because of the familiarity that we have with the story of the incarnation, we can often take for granted that the incarnation truly is a miracle. In a world that had no hope of full communion with God, God inserts Himself into our sinful story and makes it His own. By taking on a human body and soul, God proves that His love is greater than just a creator to creation relationship. He reveals that it is a Father to His children relationship because His Son has taken on our flesh. Most importantly, we see that the Word is initiating a new creation. The last time that human beings were formed by the Word was at the creation of the world. Now, as the Word of God takes on His own body formed in the womb of Mary, He is signaling that a new creation is commencing. If the first creation was all about God being in relationship with the apex of His creation, human beings, then this new creation is signaling that God is continuing that act of drawing close by saving His fallen children from their sin.
While the incarnation is an incredible mystery and act of humility, it is just the beginning of God’s action in the fullness of time. The Incarnation and Nativity of Jesus are just the beginning events of His saving mission. God not only wanted to walk this Earth with us, but He wanted us to share in His divine life.