Date: Wednesday, December 25, 2019
It is an unassuming structure considering its significance and antiquity. The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem was first constructed in 339 but pilgrims had been visiting the place for generations. It was remembered as the place of Jesus’ birth in an animal shelter in a cave. There is only one door leading to the place were traditions says Jesus was born – only 4 feet high and 2 feet wide. It is called the Door of Humility. One must bow to enter!
The Door of Humility says something about God and about us. We must bow. We cannot presume to pass through the door puffed up with a sense of our adult uprightness. Our pride, pretensions, powerplays and prejudices must be left behind. Only by acknowledging our humanity, weakness and sin, can we enter the sacred space and contemplate mystery of the Incarnation. God taking on human flesh and becoming man.
God bows in order to pass through the Door of Humility. Emeritus Pope Benedict writes: “at the heart of the mystery is the paradox that the glorious God decided to manifest himself ... in the helplessness of a child … and comes into the world in a stable.” (Benedictus, page 383) St. Luke, the Evangelist, records: “While they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”
A manger is a troth – a bin or box for grain for animals. Upon reflection, the wood of the manger foreshadows the wood of the table where Jesus reclines the night before he dies when he takes bread, gives thanks, breaks it and gives it to his disciples saying: “This is my body.” The wood of the manger will become the wood of the cross upon which Jesus dies and offers his life for our salvation.
The humble birth of the savior reveals God’s extraordinary action within ordinary human history. God is with us – Emmanuel. We celebrate the birth of Jesus at Bethlehem. Perhaps it is the child in us that enjoys a birthday party. But each year we are drawn to Bethlehem to rediscover the deeper meaning of Christ’s coming to us. We are not alone. Jesus knows what it means to be human. The reason Jesus came was not just to teach us how to get to heaven. He also came to teach us how to be fully human. The glory of God is man (men and women) fully alive.