Christmas Night by Paul Gaugin (1848-1903)
One of the great things about the Nativity is that it was the kind of thing that animals could see.
Christmas is not primarily about the more or less abstract ideas we tend to associate with it—like family, and love, and peace, and hope. It’s about a real thing that really happened—a visible event in history. I pray I’ll never get tired of remembering and rejoicing that the Son of God became a little baby boy who was born in a stable in Bethlehem a little more than 2,000 years ago, and that his mother “wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Lk 2:7).
The Son of God was there in the stable, and the Virgin Mary, and Joseph. Some shepherds showed up, and later wise men. Angels were all around. They were all praising God—and they can all seem rather abstract, poetic and remote.
But not the animals, which surely were there too. They were just normal animals, doing normal animal-type things—eating, and drinking, and pooping, and unwittingly witnessing the greatest moment in the history of the world thus far.
So Merry Christmas! Let us rejoice today, and every day, in the reality of the Incarnation, witnessed by man and beast alike. And please enjoy another setting of the O Magnum Mysterium, this one by Tomás Luis de Victoria (1548-1611), performed by New York Polyphony:
O magnum mysterium, et admirabile sacramentum, ut animalia viderent Dominum natum, jacentem in praesepio! Beata Virgo, cujus viscera meruerunt portare Dominum Christum. Alleluia.
O great mystery, and wonderful sacrament, that animals should see the newborn Lord, lying in a manger! Blessed is the Virgin whose womb was worthy to bear Christ the Lord. Alleluia!