With Christmas coming quick, I wanted to share the Christmas story as it is beautifully told in the Meditationes Vitae Christi. If you don’t know what the MVC is, or you aren’t aware of my research with a newly discovered MVC manuscript at Southern Illinois University, go back and read about it some time. For now, just enjoy the charming retelling of the Christmas story from the seventh chapter of a 14th century Latin devotional. Not every detail of the MVC retelling aligns with scripture, but it is a beautiful version of the story none the less.
When the end of the ninth month came, there went out a proclamation from the emperor that the whole world should be be enrolled, without distinction, in his own city. And when Joseph determined to go to his own city Bethlehem, and realized his wife’s appearance, he lead her with him. Therefore the Lady went on this long journey a second time; for Bethlehem is near Jerusalem, about five miles away. They also lead with them an ox and a donkey, and they hastened like poor people—animal traders.
When they were at Bethlehem, because they were poor and many people had come there fore the same reason, they were not able to find a host. Have pity on [Joseph] and look at [Mary] the charming young lady herself (for she was fifteen years old), wearied from the long journey, remaining among all those people with modesty, seeking where she may rest but having nowhere to go. Everyone dismissed her and her husband, and in this way they are driven to turn to a certain overcrowded street where men turn when it rains. Right there Joseph, who was a master woodworker, found some way to shelter them….
Now when the hour of delivery had come (in the middle of the night on that Lordly Day), the Virgin got up and supported herself on a certain column which was there. Joseph certainly was sitting dejected, because it happened when he was not able to prepare what was necessary….Then the Son of God, came from his mother’s womb (without any distress or injury) and he was outside her womb in a moment, just as he was in it, on the hay at his mother’s feet. And the mother reclined herself without delay, gathering him up and carefully embracing him, placed him in her bosom.
[After feeding him], she wrapped him up in her own headscarf and placed him in a feed trough. Then the ox and the donkey, on bended knees, put their mouths over the trough and breathed through their noses, as if they realized that a boy covered so coldly would need heat in such cold weather. In truth, his mother worshiped him on bended knees, and giving thanks to God said, “I give you thanks Lord, holy Father, you who have given to me your Son, and I worship you eternal God, and you Son of the living God and of me.” Joseph also similarly worships him. …
After the Lord was born, a multitude of angels appeared there and worshiped their Lord. Suddenly they came to pastors who were near there, about a mile away, telling them about the birth and the location. Then they ascended into heaven with singing and joyfulness, telling their fellow-angels the same news. After the heavenly court had accordingly rejoiced, a great feast had been made, and praise and acts of grateful praise had been given to God the Father, they all came in turns—as many as were there—to see the face of the Lord their God.
And worshiping him, and also his mother, with all reverence, they resounded praises and songs to him. For which one of those angels, when he heard this news, would have remained in heaven and would not have come to visit their Lord, who had humbly come on earth? He had not been able to descend with pride at all! For this reason the Apostle says to the Hebrews, “And when he bringeth in the first begotten into the world he saith, ‘And let all the angels of God worship him’.”…The shepherds also came and worshiped him, bringing reports of what they had heard from the angels. [Jesus’] Mother, a very prudent woman, pondered in her heart everything they were saying about him. Then they went away rejoicing. …
You also ought to meditate with joy about how great the solemn day is. For today Christ is born, and truthfully this is the birthday of the Eternal King, the Son of the Living God. Today “unto us a son is given, and unto us a boy is born”. Today the Son of Righteousness who was in a cloud shines clearly. Today the Spouse of the church, the Chief of the chosen, came out from his wedding chamber. Today he showed his desired face, his handsome figure before the sons of men. Today that angelic him is accomplished: Glory in the highest. Today peace is announced to men, as it says in that same hymn. Today the church sings throughout the whole world, the heavens are made to flow with honey, and angels sing in heaven.
Today, for the first time, “the kindness and love of God our savior appeared”. Today God is adored in the likeness of sinful flesh. Today those two miracles come together which surpass every intellect and which faith alone is able to get ahold of: that God is born and a virgin gives birth. Today the multitude of miraculous angels showed forth. Finally, all these things which have been said about the incarnation shine here more clearly: there voluntary, here openly. Now you may see those things and the joining of them with those meditations. And so justly this is a day of shouting and joy and great happiness beyond measure!
I think the last paragraph of this chapter of the MVC really rings true with me. When we realize that God himself came in human form to save us from our sins, it is justifiably a time of celebration! We do not deserve the kindness of God, that he would come as a man to save men. The MVC gets it right when it says that two miracles beyond comprehension were joined together into one: God was born and a virgin gave birth!
It is important to realize that when we say “God was born”, we don’t mean that the almighty God of the universe ever had a beginning or an origin. God the Father entirely is without beginning; he is an eternal Spirit. In this sense, God was not born at all. But the human Son, Jesus, was born; and Jesus is God making himself flesh as the Son to save us. Earlier, in a section of this chapter I chose not to translate, Jesus is called “the wise Son, the infant Word”. When we approach the topic of the incarnation, John 1:1-2, 14 is an important passage to meditate on.
As we approach the Christmas season, let’s remember what Jesus did for us at his birth. God became human so that humans could become divine. Eternal life put on mortality so that mortals could live eternally. As a song I heard once says, “Jesus came to be born once, so that we could be born again”! Let’s meditate on the birth of Jesus as we approach the Christmas season.