Jean-Pierre de Caussade’s little book The Sacrament of the Present Moment (or Abandonment to Divine Providence, depending on whom you ask), makes a number of brilliant observations, including the following about the Christmas event. While we celebrate the wonder and spectacle of herald angels and space oddities, de Caussade directs our gaze to the daily bread, familial obligations and toil under the sun that made up the slow, plain, normal progress of the glorious incarnation we sing about. The work of God, he says, is happening in the moments we least expect to shine sacred. Our growth towards God is in our willingness to take the thousand steps through the uneventful spaces between angels.
The duties of each moment are the shadows beneath which hides the divine operation.
“The power of the most High shall over-shadow thee” (Luke i, 35), said the angel to Mary. This shadow, beneath which is hidden the power of God for the purpose of bringing forth Jesus Christ in the soul, is the duty, the attraction, or the cross that is presented to us at each moment. These are, in fact, but shadows like those in the order of nature which, like a veil, cover sensible objects and hide them from us.
Therefore in the moral and supernatural order the duties of each moment conceal, under the semblance of dark shadows, the truth of their divine character which alone should rivet the attention. It was in this light that Mary beheld them. Also these shadows diffused over her faculties, far from creating illusion, did but increase her faith in Him who is unchanging and unchangeable. The archangel may depart. He has delivered his message, and his moment has passed. Mary advances without ceasing, and is already far beyond him. The Holy Spirit, who comes to take possession of her under the shadow of the angel’s words, will never abandon her.
There are remarkably few extraordinary characteristics in the outward events of the life of the most holy Virgin, at least there are none recorded in holy Scripture. Her exterior life is represented as very ordinary and simple. She did and suffered the same things that anyone in a similar state of life might do or suffer. She goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth as her other relatives did. She took shelter in a stable in consequence of her poverty.
She returned to Nazareth from whence she had been driven by the persecution of Herod, and lived there with Jesus and Joseph, supporting themselves by the work of their hands. It was in this way that the holy family gained their daily bread. But what a divine nourishment Mary and Joseph received from this daily bread for the strengthening of their faith! It is like a sacrament to sanctify all their moments. What treasures of grace lie concealed in these moments filled, apparently, by the most ordinary events. That which is visible might happen to anyone, but the invisible, discerned by faith, is no less than God operating very great things.
O Bread of Angels! heavenly manna! pearl of the Gospel! Sacrament of the present moment! thou givest God under as lowy a form as the manger, the hay, or the straw. And to whom dost thou give Him? “Esurientes implevit bonis” (Luke i, 53). God reveals Himself to the humble under the most lowly forms, but the proud, attaching themselves entirely to that which is extrinsic,do not discover Him hidden beneath, and are sent empty away.