I just recently moved cities, but at my last parish one of my favorite parts was looking up behind the altar and seeing this icon above encompass almost the entire east wall.
The icon is called “More Spacious than the Heavens”. Why? How can Mary be more spacious than the destination we are called to dwell in for eternity? I think that this icon has more to say about Advent, God, and his relationship to humankind than it does about Mary herself.
“But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!” – 1 Kings 8:27
We view God as transcendent, distant, and never-changing. God holds the whole creation in his hand and possesses divine sovereignty over our lives. And yet, the Incarnation of Jesus Christ awakened us to a deeper understanding of God.
In the Incarnation, God becomes what we are – human. He is fully human and fully divine. Remember that the pre-incarnate Second Person of the Trinity decided to take on all of his human nature from his mother.
Why is Mary more spacious than the heavens? Because she contained the Uncontainable One. The sustainer of the whole cosmos is now sustained by his mother’s womb. Our God who provides nourishment to the whole creation must now feed on the nourishment of his mother’s breasts. Mary is more spacious than the heavens because she embodied that which the Heavens could not.
The Nativity hymnography of the Christian East cuts through all the typical sentimentality we usually hear:
“I behold a strange, most glorious mystery! Heaven-the cave! The cherubic throne-the Virgin! The manger-the place where Christ lay, the uncontainable God, Whom we magnify in song!”
Mary is the prefigurement of what we all are when we approach the Holy Table. When we feed on Christ’s body and blood, our own bodies become divine dwelling places. We partake in a God who is not elusive or distant; we partake in a God who intimately wants to reside in and through us.
May the Incarnation illumine our understanding of God and His work in creation. Amen.