Featured Image: The Nativity (1669) by Domenico Piola (Genoa, b. 1623, d. 1703)
Mary and Joseph at the nativity of their son, Jesus, expected some privacy! Joseph would have sought the help of a midwife – just one other to help them (him!) that night. Mary might have hoped for her mom, Anne, to be there with her. I have never met parents, especially first-time parents, who expect or hope for a crowded birthing room! Profound events do not go looking for crowds.
The Genoese painter Domenico Piola “sees” a crowd there, and so he paints them there, packing them all into the stable. I count nineteen humans and angels, one God-Man and Messiah, one sheep (held close by the left arm of the woman at the bottom right), one ox, and one ass.
As I look at this overstuffed stable, I recall my mom, who would on Christmas Day begin feeling exasperated with us. The entire Ganz family – six of us children and our dad – would hang out in her kitchen, carrying on and making a racket, when there existed suitable other rooms in the house for us to inhabit. She would cry out, “Please, all of you! Go into the Living Room and let me get dinner ready!” We understood our mom’s annual exasperation, and therefore the practicality of her command, but we also noticed the gravy-drenched spatula she was wielding in a menacing way at us, the blessed fruits of her womb. We processed, obedient to an exemplary degree, into the Living Room.
However, we also understood that we were supposed to be in her kitchen like that … and that it was her fault! Our mom’s love expressing itself so concretely in her long, multi-faceted effort to bring into existence our Christmas dinner drew us to her workshop – the kitchen. It was the proof that our mom’s love could gather us, and bind us together, and cause “family” to reveal itself to each of us, and to her. Jelaluddin Rumi wrote: “What you seek … is seeking you.”
Domenico Piola paints Mary in her greatest “workshop.” See how her love draws so many near, all crowding in. They are both heavenly and earthly beings. See how each reacts to this that she has made, and this One whom she now gives to the most distinguished guests first (see how first she raises the Child to the Angels), and then to the rest of us, on that holy night in Bethlehem.
However, Mary is not the only one who is making something, and giving it. There is another.
See that young family of four gathered into the right-hand corner of the painting. We see the mother, kneeling at her man’s back, positioned closest to us. She carries her own newborn in her strong right arm and holds close to her left side a pet sheep. Notice how effortlessly her love effects a joining – her outstretched arms – of both the animals and the humans. Her love is the bridge, as is the case with that other Mother there. Already she is become a symbol of the atonement, a making at-one relationships that had been broken in Paradise (Genesis 3:13-19), a presage of the great work of the holy Child Who will make at-one the divine and human realms. To her left see their little boy, whose untrained theological perspective can still recognize the Holy when it presents Itself. See his praying hands, and notice also his fear of the magnum mysterium  proven in the way he leans in towards the protection of his parents.
But, again, Mary is not the only one giving something that she has made. There is the boy’s father, and he is making music … and giving it. See him there, in the midst of his own family, blowing a melody on his shepherd’s bagpipe (while the other father, Joseph, moves to shoo away the horned ox who has a hankering to eat the Child’s bed!).
Sometimes only a beautiful reply of music will do.
First it was the Angels’ fitting reply, a chorus of song echoing in the night sky …
13 And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying [singing?]:
14 “Glory to God in the highest
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” 
And second the fitting reply of this unnamed father, blowing a tuneful reply on his horn, imitating the example of Jesus’s own famous ancestor, David the King, who showed his people how properly to make reply to God Who had come near:
14 Then David came dancing before the Lord with abandon, girt with a linen ephod. 15 David and all the house of Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts of joy and sound of horn.
And then, finally, it is us – a family or families – gathered to sing Christmas carols concerning the holy Child, of Mary and Joseph, of the Angels, of the Shepherds, and of the Wise Men who traveled far from the East. Sometimes, we must sing.
“I will play before the Lord,
I will sing to Him my melody.
Stand among His people here,
telling of all his ways.”
An Advent Habit to Cultivate in Week Four of Advent: Sometimes it becomes time to quit being sad. And for us deliberately to avoid occasions for sadness can be a spiritual exercise of great significance. This final week before the birth of Christ, consider that single horn of the father raised in music. Let us not fail to hear its persuasive summons and turn away from all that obscures its beautiful melody. This week dedicate yourself not to listen or read any “news” of the world – a special kind of fasting. Refuse to be sad this week … for God’s sake!
 Fausta Franchini Guelfi. “Piola.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press, accessed December 14, 2016, http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/grove/art/T067779pg1. “Painter, draughtsman, printmaker and designer. He was the leading artist in Genoa in the second half of the 17th century, providing ceiling frescoes for many Genoese churches and palaces and producing paintings for private collectors. He was also a prolific draughtsman, whose many designs for thesis pages and book illustrations promoted his work throughout Europe.”
 Notice how we say “the” nativity, not “a” nativity. Our very language carries within its usage the insight that this birth was above all the birth that changed not just one happy family but all of history, the most significant birth of all.
 Ginny Kubitz Moyer at http://bustedhalo.com/questionbox/who-were-mary’s-parents-what-do-we-know-about-them writes: “Mary’s parents are St. Joachim and St. Anne. What we know about them comes from tradition, and from apocryphal writings (writings that are in the style of sacred Scripture but are not believed to have been divinely inspired). The Protoevangelium of James (written around A.D. 150) describes them as a wealthy couple who were infertile for many years, leading Joachim to fast for forty days and nights in hopes of having a child. Mary’s birth was announced by an angel, leading to much rejoicing on the part of Joachim and Anne. The story also explains that Mary was consecrated to the Lord and went to live in the temple at the age of 3.” The Catholic Church has never confirmed the truth of any of this. It simply acknowledges that these facts about Mary’s own family of origin exist in the Tradition, and as early as the 2nd century.
 Britannica Online – “Rūmī, in full Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī, also called by the honorific Mawlānā (born c. Sept. 30, 1207, Balkh [now in Afghanistan]—died Dec. 17, 1273), the greatest Sufi mystic and poet in the Persian language, famous for his lyrics and for his didactic epic Mas̄navī-yi Maʿnavī (“Spiritual Couplets”), which widely influenced mystical thought and literature throughout the Muslim world. After his death, his disciples were organized as the Mawlawīyah order.”
 This important theological word, atonement, refers to the “making one” of those things that had previously been torn apart, set against each other, by the cumulative effects of human sin acting in the world. It became a favorite way theologians spoke of the reconciliation of all things in Christ – of His divine power to make one that which even our own greatest powers had found it impossible to put together again, to set into “right relationship” as God originally caused them to be. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the noun “atonement” (in the 16th century): “The condition of being at one with others; unity of feeling, harmony, concord, agreement.”
 The Oxford English Dictionary: the noun “presage” [pronounced pri-SAGE] means: “Something that gives warning of what is about to happen; an indication or foreshadowing of a future event; an omen, a sign, a portent.”
 See especially Colossians 1:19-20 (NABRE) – “For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile all things for him, making peace by the blood of the Cross [through Him], whether those on earth or those in heaven.”
 The Latin magnum Mysterium means “a great Mystery” – a Gregorian chant sung at Matins on earliest Christmas morning, the text is translated: “O great Mystery / and wonderful sacrament / that [even the] animals should see the new-born Lord / lying in a manger! Blessed is the Virgin whose womb / was worthy to bear / our Savior, Jesus Christ / Alleluia!”
 Wikipedia at “bagpipes” notes: “Bagpipes are a wind instrument using enclosed reeds fed from a constant reservoir of air in the form of a bag…. The bag is an airtight reservoir that holds air and regulates its flow via arm pressure, allowing the player to maintain a continuous and even sound…. Materials used for bags vary widely, but the most common are the skins of local animals such as goats, dogs, sheep, and cows.”
 New American Bible, Revised Edition. (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Lk 2:13–14.
 New American Bible, Revised Edition. (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), 2 Sa 6:14–15.
 Bob Dufford, “Play Before the Lord,” on the album of the St. Louis Jesuits called Neither Silver nor Gold, published in 1974 by North American Liturgy Resources.