Reflections on the Nativity
A Filipina lady whom I know told me that her mother was born on Christmas Day — La Natividad. So naturally her parents named her “Natividad” or shorted “Navidad. Jose Feliciano’s now famous Christmas song, Feliz Navidad, remains one of the most popular and widely enjoyed of modern Christmas songs. “Happy Nativity”—“Merry Christmas” — “Feliz Navidad” — at Christmas, my sister plays this song on her piano.
The Mormon church in Palo Alto has an annual display of crèches from around the world. Evidently, the Mormon world-wide mission endeavor resulted in many missionaries bringing home artifacts from various places on the globe. In the general Palo Alto area, moreover, many people have crèches that they have collected over the years. In total, there seems to be some fifteen hundred elaborate, multi-figured scenes of the Nativity, from Mexico, Peru, Cambodia, Africa, Germany, Switzerland, American Indian tribes, Portugal, and just about anywhere. There was a lovely dark blue Murano glass Madonna. Each year some 350 of these different Nativity scenes are displayed in a lovely setting in the church halls. Striking figures of Joseph, Mary, and the Child, the Wise Men, the shepherds, the animals of all sorts, and even carved breads and eggs are displayed. The dress of Mary and Joseph, as well as their facial features, usually reflects the time and country of origin of the artist.
The Nativity — what is it? It comes from the Latin, to be born. What is the origin of any child born into this world? We really must recall that any born child is already a conceived child, with a nine-month inner-worldly record already in place. At the moment of his conception, all that he is, his unique being, is already present. What is left for this child is simply to grow, to become fully what he already is, a human being, male or female. No parents know ahead of time just what this child begotten of them is like. Though x-rays can follow his development, they have to wait to find out by seeing the child once born. They then see him grow, develop into what he already is. The birth of a child is, at the same time, both an astonishment and a lesson in the responsible care of another, as if to say that the latter, the care, flows from the former, the amazement, that such a new thing could exist as it is at all.
Yet, no child is understood if he is considered to originate in absolutely nothing, if he is held to be a total product of chance. His very body is related to the genes and looks that belonged to his grandparents and ancestors on both sides of his family. His soul, what makes him to be human as such, originates in God. It is, though related to a body, itself immaterial, hence immortal. Human life, moreover, has origins in the Godhead. Before we were in our mother’s womb, God knew us. But He did not know us apart from our parents or them apart from their parents. We are always individual persons, yet related to others and them to us. His interchange constitutes our lives.
Such reflections have two implications. Our very being is ultimately found within God’s intention to create the world in the first place. In doing so, each of us is included. We do not have any choice about whether or not we will be given existence. If we did have such a choice, it would logically mean that we existed as we are before we existed as we are at birth. Our parents do not engineer us. All they know is that children can be born of them. They never know which ones until they see them. Our conception and birth, in other words, are best understood as a gift, not as something “due” or constructed. Yet, once we are conceived, our growth, which needs love, help, and attention, proceeds by the necessity of our being what we are. We will reach infancy, youth, middle age, old age, and death. The only way to stop this subsequent flourish as a human being is to kill it, though such a killing does not prevent that which is killed from reaching the purpose for which it was made in the Godhead.