One of the parishes that I attend daily Mass at has two images of Mary and Jesus, one on either side of the altar. Recently I was struck by how loving Mary is in each of these scenes, and how willing she is to give her Son to us so that we would be fed.
The first image is of Mary with the child Jesus as she places Him in the manger.*
Often times we think of the manger without realizing what a manger actually is. In reality, it is a feeding trough, out of which the animals would have eaten. From the very beginning, Jesus was laid to rest in a place out of which animals ate. He was food for even the lowliest among us.
I once heard a homily about how the stables were designed in Jesus’ day. The troughs were placed in such a way that who or whatever was going to eat out of them (because the poor sometimes ate out of them as well) had to crane their necks and stand tall in order to eat from them. They would have been placed on a different level than where the animals were, slightly above their heads. When Jesus was laid in the manger, anyone who wanted to see Him would have had to lift their heads, looking upward to do so.
The image of Mary and Jesus on the other side of the altar is of the Pieta.
I had a friend who studied abroad and became obsessed with the Pieta once she saw it. She told me that any version of Michelangelo’s famous work should always feature Mary, holding her Son, and placing Him on the altar so that He could be food for all.
These two images mark the beginning and the end of Jesus’s earthly life, and both powerfully show Him in a place to be food for all, food that we might be nourished by Him and receive Him. In order to do so, we are invited to life our heads up, gaze Heavenwards and invite Him into our hearts.
As we continue along in our Advent journey, let us remember what it is that we are called to receive at Christmas, not necessarily the myriad of gifts, but the Christ, into our midst, into our lives, and into our bodies as the nourishment we so desperately seek. But also, let us remember who we are called to imitate in this period of anticipation: Mary, she who is always ready to lay Jesus down to become food for all. She is the giver of the food of eternal life – are we bringing Him as nourishment to those around us?