Listen, o reader, listen and watch. The night is growing longer, the cold growing colder, and the days becoming shorter. But in this darkening chill, a great light comes forth to bring glad tidings and good news.
Christmas is upon us, perhaps the most treasured holiday of the year. For some it can be painful as others’ joy becomes a burden in contrast to the loneliness or loss of the unfortunate. For some it is a pious time of religious reflection, and others a time of warm memories and Santa Claus.
Whatever it is, however, it is not neutral. It grabs our attention in many ways, through song, movies, lights, decorations, corny TV shows (especially those Hallmark movies!), sweets and treats….
But what gives Christmas its particular caché, its power and hold on us? May I posit that its meaning derives from the beauty of the “origin story” to end all origin stories. It is the story of the God of the universe coming to save his people from themselves and others as not a conquering hero or irresistible force, but as a tiny, helpless baby.
A baby! God has become a baby in order to enter humanity and pull us up from the muck of sin and suffering. No one expected that…. Not even the Jews who eagerly awaited their kingly messiah, or the Greeks, Romans, Persians, and barbarians who had their own notions of salvation and deliverance. No one expected a baby, born in a stable, to humble parents from a backwater town on the edge of civilization.
But why a baby? There is a practical aspect to it, of course. If a pure spirit like God wants to enter into humanity, he has to come into it just like the rest of us, though God as God could have emerged fully formed. So why come as a vulnerable child whose rumored presence was enough to prompt an evil king to murder all male children under 2?
Think about the near universal reaction people have to babies. They light up, they coo, they want to help the baby and cuddle her. Joy is instantly sparked in the heart of man when an infant draws near. The baby draws us to itself in spite of ourselves. Hardly any other living being is capable of such intense attraction.
Why? I believe (along with others more wise and holy than me) that it’s because a baby is pure, innocent goodness. He has not yet sinned. His soul is spotless and complete potential. That natural, deep-seated, rich goodness is attractive in itself. It is the same reason we look in awe at sunsets or mountain vistas. Beauty is an expression of goodness, and pure goodness is most beautiful of all.
Yet, per traditional Christian doctrine, we are all born with the stain of original sin, with the inclination to do sin as did our first parents, Adam and Eve. The baby shines even with that stain because she has not, nor cannot, commit sin. So imagine how radiant would the soul of one unstained by such sin and who is the very source of that goodness be?!
The mind can barely conceive of such beauty. Artists have attempted countless times to represent it, either in beautiful paintings or by sacred music. All have tried and some have come closer than others, but portraying that moment is utterly beyond human capability.
We can ponder it, however, and we have a society that has allowed that most central event of history to permeate and nurture our culture, so much so that many who are not even aware of or care about Christ’s birth still receive some of the blessings of that event.
In the darkest time of the year, a light shines in the dark, a child born to Mary and to us to lead us out of suffering and sin, out of hopelessness and despair, and into the very bosom of love, God.
It is a time of profound peace and joy, if you allow the graces flow into your heart. Just focus on that baby, gaze at his face and imagine you are looking into the eyes of God himself. And remember that that baby would in 33 years be on the cross, making the ultimate sacrifice so that you and I could be reconciled with God and abide in his house, all the days of our lives. Look into those eyes, too, for they are the same.
Peachtree City, Ga.