This is an image that I’ve seen a few times over previous Advents, and though it made me smile, I’d never really stopped to think about it much.
The other day, however, I was having a moment thinking, wow, God became a tiny little baby who was born and laid down in a manger. But then I had a moment thinking, hey, God became a fetus. Jesus was an embryo, and before then a zygote. (Hooray for terminology learned in Biology GCSE!) He shared fully in our humanity, and that included all stages of early development. Jesus the Man started out as a single cell in Mary’s womb.
But that got me thinking. At Christmas we celebrate Jesus coming to Earth as the Baby born in Bethlehem. But didn’t He technically come to earth before then – specifically, nine months before?
Yes, yes He did. Hence the 25th March, the feast day of the Annunciation is also the feast day of the Incarnation. Once Mary had given her consent, that was when the Holy Spirit came upon her and Jesus began to grow in her womb. That is the moment that God became Man. That is when God became physically present; when the Word became Flesh and dwelt among us.
After considering all this, I got really confused as to why we don’t pay as much attention to the feast of the Incarnation as we do to the feast of Christmas. I guess the fact that it practically always falls in Lent has something to do with that? (Knowledgeable people, help me out please.)
But then, I thought about it a little more. Earlier on this week I wrote about how God works through surprises, and how surprises are brought about with careful planning. The other thing that you need for a surprise to work is secrecy.
The Angel Gabriel certainly took Mary by surprise by his message! But the moment was both surprise and secret, for she was the only person present when it happened – when her God became her Son. His first earthly resting place and home were not the manger and stable of Bethlehem, but the womb in the person of Mary – a very secret and secure dwelling place indeed.
I wonder – and this is purely me musing now, please bear in mind – if Advent is the season of waiting, does this mean that Mary’s Advent, if you will, concluded at the Annunciation? For once she had spoken, she was no longer waiting for her Saviour; He was Incarnate within her. He had come, and she knew it, even if the rest of the world did not.
And I suppose therein lies the answer to my earlier confusion, really. The feast of the Incarnation is an extremely important one, but it is the celebration of what happened in secret while the world kept on watching and waiting. Christmas is the time when we celebrate with full vim and vigour the coming of Jesus to Earth because Christmas is when mankind was told of the miracle that had taken place. Christ’s birth was not the moment He came to Earth; it was when we were given the good news of His arrival. Mary and a few others – Saint Joseph, Elizabeth, the unborn John the Baptist – had been privy to this wondrous information already, but Christmas was when the shepherds on the hillsides of Bethlehem were visited by angels who gave them the message whilst singing for joy, and when the Magi, strangers from the East, followed the star hundreds of miles in order to behold the Infant Christ. The secret was let out of the ‘family circle’, if you like!
In this way, at Christmas we celebrate that God did indeed come to save everyone. He revealed Himself first to the Jewish people, His chosen people, as indeed He revealed the secret of His Incarnation first to Mary, the woman chosen to be His Mother. But then the good news was shared; first with shepherds and wise man – poor and rich, Jew and Gentile – and then, through the teachings of Jesus and the work of His disciples, with the whole world.
So, before I’d written this post, one thing I was wondering was whether or not the thought of the Unborn Jesus is an idea to be meditated on during Advent. It seemed like it should be, but then again, I wondered that if Advent is about humankind waiting for God to come and be among us, then surely the image of Christ in the womb is an image of Him fulfilling this waiting, as He has arrived on Earth.
I think, though, that the Unborn Christ is most definitely an Advent-y contemplation, as He is Christ as of yet unrevealed to humanity. Jesus in secret. The Incarnation is a joyful contemplation – the Annunciation is, after all, the first Joyful Mystery of the Rosary – but it is more a subject of awe, for me at least. How incredible, how wonderful, that God should actually enter into our humanity, for our salvation. But as it happened in secret, it calls us to hope and wait and trust in the Lord; the time to celebrate is when He reveals these marvels to us.
Glory be to the Unborn, Unrevealed Christ! You at Your most vulnerable and tiny, now being a sign to us of the greatness and strength of Your love. Christ the Unexpected, Undetected; only You know when it is time to show Your Face to us. Let us keep heart and remain faithful as we wait for You to make Yourself known to us. Amen.