O, come let us adore Him…
This Advent we will spend each Sunday reflecting a bit on what it means to adore Jesus in the flesh by exploring the Nativity through the eyes of four different groups of people who all came to adore Jesus at His birth.
The first two people to have the opportunity to adore the baby Jesus were His parents, Joseph and Mary. Imagine the quiet, still night on which He was born. Having travelled to Bethlehem for the census, the Holy Family was far away from their home and all the comforts within it. There were no comfortable rooms available for them in town and they were left to welcome their newborn baby in a stable amongst animals. The Savior of the world came into the world amidst the humblest of circumstances. What Joseph, Mary, and Jesus did have was each other, bound by an unmatched familial love for one another, which would transcend any and all circumstances, no matter how challenging they might seem. Although perhaps not the most comfortable arrangements, one thing the stable did offer them was the privacy to bask in that love together, alone as a family.
The Word of God incarnate came as a small, helpless, vulnerable infant. Like any infant, He was completely dependent on His parents to meet all His basic needs. Mary, with a mother’s love, swaddled her newborn son so that He would feel safe, warm, and protected from the outside world. Mary and Joseph adored Jesus as any parents adore their child. However, there was more to their adoration for baby Jesus, for they knew who He was, the Son of God, the one sent to redeem humanity. The very baby they adored as their child, they also adored as their God. The wonder and awe, which certainly would have overwhelmed these parents on that night, must have been magnificent. They undoubtedly would have been so incredibly grateful to God for this tiny and precious baby, who was also the greatest King.
The Catechism has this to say about adoring God:
Adoration is the first act of the virtue of religion. To adore God is to acknowledge him as God, as the Creator and Savior, the Lord and Master of everything that exists, as infinite and merciful Love. “You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve,” says Jesus, citing Deuteronomy. (CCC #2096)
Mary and Joseph were the first two people gifted with the opportunity to practice that first virtue of religion in adoring the Savior in His small, helpless, infant body. They were in complete service to their child and their God as they cared for Him in the stable.
There is a book called The Life of St. Francis, written by St. Bonaventure in the 13th Century. In it, St. Bonaventure credits St. Francis of Assisi for creating the traditional nativity scene we are used to seeing around Christmas. In 1223, St. Francis sought permission from Pope Honorius III to create the scene in order to stir up devotion to the baby Jesus. My family has a running joke every year about how it is unlikely that the scene would have been the way it is usually depicted. Instead, it is probably much more likely that Mary would have been holding her infant son, rather than staring down at Him. However true that may or may not be, St. Francis designed the nativity scene because he wanted to emphasize the adoration aspect in relationship to the infant Jesus and that His parents were the first to adore Him. I have made it a point, though, to purchase several nativity scenes over the years with Mary holding Jesus to depict the adoration of a mother for her child.
There is often a lot of focus on the relationship between mother and child. However, one of my favorite depictions of the first Christmas night shows Joseph sitting up and lovingly holding his newborn child while Mary sleeps beside them on some hay. Although Jesus was not his biological son, it is not difficult to imagine that Joseph adored Jesus with a fatherly love after being given the task to raise, protect, and provide for the Incarnate Word.
What makes the adoration of Mary and Joseph for Jesus unique is the level of intimacy between the three of them. After conceiving her infant through the Holy Spirit, Mary carried Jesus in her womb for nine months, nurturing His body with her body. Joseph, as a loving husband and father, provided for them and, at an early point in their marriage, they were forced to undertake an arduous journey together to Bethlehem. There exists a certain intimacy and vulnerability in familial love that is typically unmatched outside of the family unit. Members of a family know each other well and are, therefore, able to serve each other in a way no one else can. What is different about the Holy Family versus other families is that we are invited to enter that intimate and vulnerable familial relationship and love with them. We are invited to intimately know that baby born to Mary and Joseph. We are called to draw as near to the infant Jesus as Mary and Joseph were and to have a deep, personal relationship with Him. We also undergo many arduous figurative journeys throughout our lifetime. We lose comforts and consolations. We have hardship and suffering. No matter what we go through, if we are in relationship with Jesus like the Holy Family, then we will always carry that love and adoration with us. Our love for Jesus, and His returned love for us, can never be taken away and it offers us every comfort in the face of any adversity.
When we approach the Blessed Sacrament, whether during Mass or in an Adoration chapel, do we contemplate the reality that we are approaching Our Lord in the flesh and do we hold an intimate and familial love for Him in our heart? Do we take on the humble disposition of Joseph and Mary in Bethlehem and accept our meager circumstances so we can love, adore, and serve God above all else? As we wait for the birth of the baby Jesus, we can contemplate the love and adoration His parents had for Him and strive to emulate them better in our own love and adoration.