The Incarnation of Christ, celebrated in the liturgical season of Christmastide, takes on a richer significance for me with each passing year. The story of the Nativity is fuller–but undeniably stranger. It loses the saccharine quality of greeting cards and becomes complicated.

Christmas becomes more intricately connected to Holy Week and I’m reminded that the miracle of the Incarnation isn’t merely that Our Lord was born as a human on the very earth I walk on, but that He came in order that He might die.

The wooden manger foreshadows the wooden Cross where His life will be extinguished. The joyful songs of angels at Our Lord’s birth precede the agony of the heavenly hosts at his Death. The wise men bring myrrh–perfumed ointments for funeral preparations–to point to Our Lord’s true purpose in visiting this planet. The ecstasy the Blessed Virgin must have experienced when she first beheld Him brings to mind her unrivaled suffering as she watched His torturous Passion. It is all one. It is all connected—God’s unfathomable love and sacrifice for humanity.

In some artistic renderings of the Nativity scene (I have Giuseppe Vermiglio’s Nativity and Adoration of the Shepherds in mind), there is a strange image included in the stable. It is a lamb, but not a cuddly creature watching and adoring the precious Baby Jesus. It is a lamb with its legs bound: the sacrificial lamb that will be taken to slaughter. It reminds us, as St. John the Baptist does, that when we see the Christ Child, we are beholding the Lamb of God, Who will carry our sins to the Cross.

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