Today’s feast celebrates an impossibility. How could a human being give birth to God? This feast proclaims God’s unutterable closeness, expressed in life-giving paradox. Aaron is told to bless Israel, saying: “The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! / The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!” But God tells Moses: “You cannot see my face, for no one can see me and live” (Exod 33:20). Israel longs for what could seemingly destroy her.
But in Jesus, God’s face at last becomes visible. Mary’s motherhood is not merely a biological fact. Her smiles brought to light the radiant smile for which Israel had longed. Among the first to see that face were the shepherds, people who were “faceless” and of no account.
Friends of mine adopted a Vietnamese baby, Ben, orphaned by the war. He never smiled, for no one had ever smiled at him before. One day, as we prepared for Mass, he amazed us with his first smile, the fruit of the love of his adoptive parents.
God has smiled on us. We did not die, but he did, that joy might be eternal. Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones sang: “You don’t want to walk and talk about Jesus / You just want to see his face.” Every Christian has the maternal task of bringing the divine life-giving smile to birth in others, especially on the faces of those who are despised or unnoticed.