What Child is this Who, laid to rest, on Mary’s lap is sleeping?
This familiar Christmas carol poses an important question to us, as we progress through the Nativity Fast. What Child is this? Or more specifically, Who is the Christ Child? The answer will appear obvious to us; but let’s look a bit deeper.
Before the existence of creation, of all matter, and of time itself, Jesus Christ was eternally begotten of God the Father. When the Trinity created the world, it was by God’s Word—the Logos of God, Jesus Christ. As the second Person of the Trinity, He participated in the saving work of God through the chosen people of Israel. Then, in the fullness of time, He took on flesh, becoming incarnate of the Virgin Mary.
The greatness of God dwelt in the smallness of a human womb! In the hymns for the feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple (which we just celebrated on November 21), this mystery is described:
Today the all-blameless Virgin is led to the Temple, to become the abode of God the King of all and Nourisher of our whole life.
Joachim takes from his home the temple and the throne of the King of all. [His daughter, the Panagia, is the temple and throne.]
How is it that the Panagia held the God of all things inside her body? She held fire but was not burned. Like the burning yet unconsumed bush which Moses witnessed, and the Babylonian fire with the three youths who were cooled in the dew, so the Panagia’s womb contained the uncontainable, becoming “more spacious than the heavens.” For nine months she contained Him, nourished Him, grew Him. He Who created her was now being formed (in His humanity) inside of her. Thus the God before all time has a mother – and grandparents and ancestors. Great is the mystery!
Yet the most startling aspect of our Lord’s Nativity is in the smallness: God condescends to become lowly and humble, a tiny, weak, and defenseless human infant. I think about this even more, now that Pres. Annie and I are expecting a child. No living things upon the earth spends so many years of their lives dependent upon their parents, incapable of sustaining themselves alone—as humans do.
Yet this is what our Creator endured for our salvation. Just like every other human infant, He spent the slow, long years of infancy and childhood being taught how to move, how to walk, how to talk. (In this article you can see a poignant icon of Christ and the Panagia called, “The First Steps of Christ,” which shows the Panagia helping Him as He learns to walk.) The One Who knows all things was taught. The Timeless One willingly became bound by time. The “Nourisher of our whole life” and of all of creation was nourished by being fed from His holy mother.
His incarnation is the axis upon which our entire salvation pivots. Had He not become man, we could not have become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), inheritors of eternal life. By taking on our mortal human nature, He has joined humanity to the immortal divine nature, granting us life without end.
In this season of the Nativity, let us remember the He Who is greatest became small. His love for us was so immense that it could bear the being born as a human infant—weak and defenseless. The One Who has legions of angels at His command was swaddled, held, and nurtured. Great is the condescension of our Lord! Great is His love for mankind!
This, this is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing.
Haste, haste, to bring Him laud, the Babe, the Son of Mary.