|Falling Down and Being Lifted Up
In the Nativity scenes we set up in churches and homes we are familiar with the three figures that make their appearance today, joining the figures of Jesus, Mary, Joseph, shepherds and various creatures. In many such scenes these visitors from the east, bearing their gifts, stand in awe, though perhaps one or more of them may bend a knee. But rarely, gazing at these figures, do we feel the power of the scripture that today proclaims, “They prostrated themselves and did him homage.”
To be prostrate is to be flat on the floor, face down, disarmed, immobile, vulnerable. Much more than a nod of the head, or a quick genuflection, this gesture expresses the heart’s conviction of being in the Presence of “One mightier than I.” These “foreigners” express through their bodies, the inner stance of deep humility, the only true response in the presence of God in the flesh in Jesus.
St. Augustine, reflecting back on his long, tortuous journey to faith, acknowledged that the ultimate block to his final conversion came in the form of pride. It was what he learned through grasping the truth of the Incarnation that provided the way forward: “In this lower world, he built for himself a lowly habitation of our clay . . . so that [people] might go on no further in self-confidence but rather consent to become weak, seeing the Deity before their feet, made weak by taking on our mortality; and wearied, might cast themselves down on him, so that rising again, he might lift them up.” St. Augustine learned through the infant Jesus to surrender to the power of God and to let himself be lifted up.
Perhaps today, as we gaze at these visitors who come to the stable, we might be moved to imitate them, at least in our hearts. And gazing at them, we might ask ourselves where we need to surrender to the power of God today so that he might lift us up?