At some point, the angels finish singing sweetly o’er the plain, and the mountains finish echoing their joyous strain.
At some point, the shepherds go home.
At last, Mary is alone with her thoughts, alone with her newborn child, alone with Jesus.
And Scripture tells us that Mary takes it all in. Mary treasures all these things and ponders them in her heart. Joseph is sacked out on a pile of hay. The cows are moving around a bit. But, now, it’s just Mary and Jesus. And Mary takes a good look at his face. Maybe she counts his toes and fingers again – just to make sure. Jesus gurgles some sound up at her, and then drifts off to sleep in her arms. And Mary ponders these things in her heart. As Mary holds this new life, she gently rests her ear on Jesus’ chest, and there in the quiet of that stable, Mary listens . . . for the heartbeat of God.
And what Mary hears, and what she sees, and what she holds in her arms will draw her out into the whole of the life of Christ. In her life with Jesus, Mary will experience the miraculous; she will hear him teach; she will worry for him as he challenges the authorities, and as the authorities hunt him down; she will travel with him, all the way to Jerusalem; and she will be there with him, when all but the women have fled, keeping watch at the foot of the cross. And there – the artists who have crafted pietas tell us – Mary holds Jesus once more, and she rests her ear on Jesus’ chest, and she listens, hope against hope . . . for the heartbeat of God.
And on the third day: Mary will experience the heartbeat of God – yet again – hope beyond hope – in Resurrection. The heartbeat of God – vulnerable as a newborn child, stronger even than death. Mary will feel that heartbeat race in her own breast as she wonders, May it really be so? She will feel that heart beat in the company of community. Together they will experience that heartbeat poured into them. They will hear that heart beat as their elders dream dreams, and as their youth share their visions.
This is the miracle of Christmas – the heartbeat of God pulsing in the fullness of humanity. The heartbeat of God pulsing in the body of Christ. The heartbeat of God pulsing in us.
After a season of waiting and of listening for that heartbeat, here it is. Today, and tomorrow, and every day of every year, this is the miracle of Christmas: If you want to listen for the heartbeat of God in the body of Christ,
you need only place your hand on your own heart,
or take the hand of someone you love,
or feed the hungry,
or welcome the stranger,
or bind up the brokenhearted,
or work to set the captive – and all who are oppressed – free.
This is the Good News of Christmas: the heartbeat of God pulsing in the fullness of humanity – pulsing in us – to bless the world God loves.
Scott Clark is Chaplain and Associate Dean of Student Life at San Francisco Theological Seminary.