Christmas 2011

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings glad
tidings, announcing peace, bearing good news, announcing salvation,
and saying to Zion, “Your God is King!”

Christmas is the truth that most confounds the human mind. God has become man, God has become a man-child, weak and defenseless as every human infant, while still remaining the almighty God who holds this universe in existence from beginning to end. What could be a greater wonder, a greater mystery to dazzle the human mind and soul than the truth we believe, that God, the Creator of the universe, which he infinitely surpasses in being and power, was conceived and born into this world as a tiny member of our human family, an infinitesimal creature compared to His infinite Being, and yet truly being both at the same time, one person, two natures?

The human mind boggles before this mystery; how can it be, is it not really simply another fantasy created by man’s poetic mind? And the answer of faith is immediate and without hesitation – this really has happened, the greatest has become the least, the King has become the pauper, God has become a man, and what may appear to some to be the greatest of fairy tales is in fact the greatest of truths, a mysterious truth that we will never fully understood till the end of time, and yet will ever fill believing hearts with wonder and joy, because it all happened, and it happened for us.

The human mind alone is really not equipped to deal with such a truth.

Grasp this great mystery. We can’t see why God should do such a thing because we would never think of it. We would not choose to become a piece of dust even for the greatest purpose, and so we wonder how could the infinite God possibly become something infinitely smaller than himself, for whatever reason?

The answer of the saints is quite simple. We mere mortals at least know something about love and the way mere mortals will sacrifice themselves for love, will lower themselves greatly for the sake of the beloved. But John’s Gospel tells us that God not only loves, but that God is Love. And as one novelist put it so succinctly, Love does such things. Love alone can help us begin to understand the deeds of love, and the Incarnation of God is the deed of Love beyond all others in our regard. God did this, became one of us, because He is Love, and He loves us so much that He did this infinite deed of love, for us.

Only faith and love then can open our eyes to accept the truth of this birth of God as man. Since the Middle Ages Christians became found of placing in their Christmas cribs the Ox and the Donkey which Isaiah mentioned in his very first chapter: The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib; but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.

The Fathers of the Church interpreted the phrase “my people do not would be joined with the Jews in the new People of God, like the ox and donkey. Neither Jew nor gentile, without the light of faith can embrace the truth about this child. But with faith, supported by love, their eyes are opened, and they become like the Ox and the donkey who miraculously seem to recognize their very creator in the crib they keep warm with their breath. Thus the ox and donkey in the traditional Christmas crib set are portrayed with eyes that are human and can see and recognize the one before them as their creator. These dumb creatures represent the two peoples who are transformed into adorers of the mystery which they see no longer with the empty eyes of animals but the human eyes which can see things in a whole others sense.

Man without faith, Jew of Gentile, is like the ox and the donkey, unable to recognize the child, and merely able to keep the crib warm with their animal breath, dumb creatures used by God merely to keep his child warm. Man without faith cannot see what is before his very eyes. He is like the dumb animal until faith enlightens his eyes, and his heart responds with love. Without these gifts man stands mute and stubborn before this mystery; with these gifts man is transformed and gazes upon this mystery with reverence, wonder and love. Like the Mother, Mary, the believer treasures these things in his or her heart, and bows before the mystery of God’s love which has gone to such lengths to rescue us from Satan’s power, as another Christmas Hymn

There is the full context of the mystery, God lowered himself to virtual nothingness to save sinners who were doomed to be slaves of Satan’s power because they had all gone astray, and then Love leapt down from heaven and rescued His creatures when they were all but lost. That is the great mystery before which Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and the Magi, and finally we ourselves must simply bow down. And if we bow down, then we arise new men, with a new vision of our human dignity and value. We learn our true value, our individual and collective worth, only in the mystery in which God lowered himself to be one with us, one for us, one of us, a true son of man.

What practical consequences this faith or lack of faith has for the world. Because God chose to take on our nature completely, he chose to become a helpless, defenseless babe, and thereby sanctified man’s life from the first moment in the womb. He was a child whom the world did not want. He was unexpected, inconvenient, unplanned by man, and the world reacted differently toward that child depending upon the presence of faith or its absence in the hearts of individuals. There was no room for him at the inn, and that inn represents the world at large today. There is little place for Christ today, and it is nowhere more evident than in the deadly rejection of millions of children who are unwanted, unexpected, unplanned. Men today are so often like the Ox and donkey who cannot recognize the face of God in the defenseless child in the womb, even though God was once just such a child. His mother, unlike the world, welcomed Him, even though He was most unexpected and certainly inconvenient because He brought her much suffering along with untold joy.

Openness to the child as a gift from God, one who bears the image of God from the first moment, just as Jesus actually was God from his first human moment, is a consequence of the great mystery of Christmas. Once God has become a human child in the womb, all human life becomes sacred. Moreover, this faith in the poverty of God is the basis of Christian charity toward the poor. Even today, Christians are the most charitable segment of the world’s population and by a substantial margin. Any society that is widely populated with truly believing Christians will have a greater concern for the poor, sick, orphaned and widowed. A world without Christ, and without his believers, is an impoverished, darker and much sadder world. He is the truth about man and the only hope for truly peaceful and joyful world. Christian faith and charity are the medicine that heals the deepest wounds of our humanity. May God give you a deeper faith and charity this Christmas, so that you can carry these into the world. It fill you with the joy of those who first celebrated Christ’s coming at Bethlehem so long ago, and yet always so near to the eyes of simple faith.

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