Neither Advent nor the tomb is Christ’s final rest in the world. He rests in the midst of the world now, in the Host. He is as silent, as secret and hidden, in the Host as He was in Advent or in the tomb. He trusts Himself to His creatures in the Host as He trusted Himself to our Lady in Advent; only then He gave Himself into the keeping of the one human creature who was sinless and in whom He could have His will, and now He gives Himself into the keeping of sinners.
In the Host He is immobile, dependent. He rests in the priest’s hands, on the paten, in the tabernacle. He remains with us, resting in all the cities and all the lonely and unexpected places of the world. Wherever human creatures are, He rests in their midst.
Christ could show His power and glory; He could show that the Host is God; He could break down the pride of those who have no fear of God. He does not. While injustice and arrogance prevail, He remains silent and helpless, and seems to do nothing at all. It has always been Christ’s way to come first in secret, to come in a hidden way, to be secret even in those in whom He abides, whose life He is, to be known first by His love, gradually becoming known by the quickening of His life.
On Calvary Christ is set between two thieves; in Bethlehem He is set between two animals. On Calvary He is poor, with the poverty of destitution; in Bethlehem He is poor, with the poverty of destitution.
He is deprived of his home in Nazareth; the cradle made ready for Him is empty: On Calvary He was naked, stripped of His garments and of all that He had; in Bethlehem He was naked and stripped of all that He had.
On Calvary He was stretched and straightened and fastened down to the Cross; in Bethlehem He was stretched out and straightened and fastened in swaddling bands.
On Calvary He was lifted up, helpless, and held up for men to look upon; in Bethlehem He was lifted up, helpless, to be gazed upon.
On Calvary He was laid upon a wooden cross; in Bethlehem He was laid in a wooden manger. By the Cross stood Mary His Mother; by the crib knelt Mary His Mother.
He was crucified outside of the city wall; He was born outside of His own village and crowded out of Bethlehem.
At His birth He was called “King of the Jews”; at His death He was called “King of the Jews.” The claim to be king threatened His life in Bethlehem; the claim to be king cost Him His life in Jerusalem. Three times this mysterious title is heavy with doom: at His birth, His trial, and His death.
At His birth: “There came wise men from the East to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is He that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the east, and are come to adore Him?” At His trial: “And Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked Him, saying: ‘Art thou the King of the Jews?”
At Bethlehem myrrh was brought to Him; and myrrh was brought to anoint His body for burial. Each time, it was brought by a rich man who came by night: first by the wise king and then by Nicodemus.
Another king brought incense: frankincense that was poured into a censer of gold and lit with a flame, filling the stable with an aromatic smell to mingle with the smell of hay and the ox’s breath of clover. Myrrh and frankincense were poured out for Him in Bethlehem; and spikenard and ointment were poured over His body in Bethania, for His burial.
There, in the stable at Bethlehem, began the lovely waste that is the extravagance of love, that is and will always be scandal to the loveless. Already, as the useless crown of gold that the infant’s head could not support shone at His feet, as clouds of incense hung in the rafters of the stable, and as the air grew fragrant with the smell of myrrh, the box of precious ointment was broken to anoint the Beloved for His burial.
At Bethlehem He was wrapped in swaddling bands and laid in a manger; on Calvary He was wrapped in swaddling bands and laid in a tomb.
Both the manger and the tomb were borrowed. Both had been made for their owners. They were not made for Christ. All that had been prepared for Him God had set aside. God chose what men should give to His Son.
In Bethlehem the Mother of Christ gave Christ’s human body to us. She had given her own flesh and blood to Him to be His flesh and blood. Now she gave herself to us in Him, by giving Him to us. She gave His body to cold, to thirst, to light and darkness, to sleep.
In Bethlehem began the thirst of Calvary, the terrible thirst caused by loss of blood, the thirst that withers the tongue and the hands and feet and the whole body.
In Bethlehem came the infant blindness; and blindness came again on Calvary, filling Christ’s eyes with the darkness of dying.
In Bethlehem Christ slept His first sleep in His Mother’s arms; on Calvary, Christ slept His last sleep in His Mother’s arms.
Christ came out of the darkness of the womb. He was the Light of the World. He came to give the world life. The life of the whole world burnt in the tiny flame of an infant’s life; it began the age-long fight with death in the least and frailest that human nature can be; in the helplessness, the littleness, the blindness of an infant, life prevailed. The Light of the World shone in darkness. At Bethlehem love and death met in the body of Christ, and love prevailed.
from Wood of the Cradle, Wood of the Cross by Caryll Houselander
top artwork from Tommy Canning, used with permission