In today’s Gospel reading, Mark 8:30-34, Jesus tells the disciples that He “must suffer many things, be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, the scribes, then be killed, and after three days rise again.” We are in the midst of the Nativity season! Why does the Church have us reading about Jesus’ passion? Because Christ came to die for us. In our Nativity icon, Christ is shown in winding sheets used in burial. The cave foreshadows the tomb. God is being born in the flesh to die for us in the flesh.
As we reflect on this today, we also remember Daniel and the Three Youths on our Church calendar, emphasizing the same message. Daniel was cast into the lions’ den and the Bible tells us, “then they brought a stone and placed it over the mouth of the den; and the king sealed it with his ring and with the ring of his nobles,” prefiguring the tomb and the womb, which were both sealed. The three youths were cast into the fiery furnace, prefiguring Christ’s descent into Hades.
It is that time of year when we are going to this party, buying that present, decorating, cooking, and allowing ourselves to feel pressured by a host of expectations from many sources, whether real or imagined. But usually the pressure that we place on ourselves is the harshest. It comes from a misleading sense of self-importance that makes us feel, irrationally, as if we must do all these things because the world will fall apart if we don’t do them.
And so, while it might seem strange that today, in the midst of our holiday stress, Christ calls us saying, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34), it really makes perfect sense.
By doing this, everything is put in the right perspective so that our focus isn’t on what we do, but on what He’s doing. He’s entering the womb and climbing the Cross, descending into Hades and ascending to Heaven. In an instant, we see it all, stop what we’re doing, and follow Him.