Our God made visible

While gentile silence enveloped all things and the night was in the midst of her course, your almighty Word leapt down from heaven, from your royal throne (Wisdom 18:14).

Shortly after a Christmas day, John Updike wrote, “I experienced happiness so sharply I tried to factor it into compartments. The first cause of the happiness was that the Christmas season was over—the presents, the parties— and that was a relief.”

For many people, it is a relief when the Christmas season is over. One can hear people complain that Christmas was too commercial. Christmas had become one big advertising campaign. Unbelievers use it to make money. There’s the crowds of shoppers, the piped in Christmas music, the necessity of finding presents and wrapping and sending them, the lines at the post offices.

Christmas, for some, is a season to be endured. People speak of needing a holiday from the holiday. A friend of mine speaks of “the tyrannical holiday,” and points out that the suicide rate is especially high at Christmas.

The Catholic League is troubled by Wal-Mart’s aversion to the word “Christmas” and by how nativity scenes are kept out of sight so that no one is offended. I never go to Wal-Mart or Costco looking for religion. I do hope to hear offered from the pulpit something more satisfying than the annual lament about “the secularizing of Christmas.”

The magic of Christmas remains. There are the abiding themes of Christmas. Christmas is a feast of joy and hope. Into this world of fear and worry, among people with their troubles, comes the proclamation of great jo —“To you is born this day a savior” (Lk. 2:11). The first words proclaimed by the angels are “Do not be afraid” (Lk. 2:10).

The time is fulfilled, and in the 15th year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar (Lk. 3:1), eternity enters into time. In the baby of the manger, we see our God made visible. God Almighty, the Eternal One, Creator of heaven and earth, takes on humanity, becomes a tiny infant cared for by two poor and simple people. The All-Powerful one takes on new life with hands and feet, eyes and ears, blood, nerves and bones, fingernails and lungs. God pursues us into our time and into our flesh. Dante speaks of “the love that moves the sun and the stars.”

God tries to arouse in us a feeling of trust and confidence in him. The famous theologian Karl Rahner speaks of Christmas as the time when God tries to press his love upon us as persuasively as he can. He asks us not to be afraid of him. H does not desire to hurt us. He comes to us as this helpless child. He is a God of pity dwelling amid our sorrows and labors. St. Therese asked, “How could anyone be afraid of a God who becomes a child?”

The gift of time is perhaps the most important gift we get and give. The true gift of the Magi was not the myrrh and frankincense and gold, but the time and trouble they took to bring them.

The modern-day equivalent is the hours spent in crowded stores finding presents, the care and effort it takes for wrapping and sending presents, the time spent at the post office. When one thinks about it, all these are appreciated as much as the gift itself. They are an expression of affection and esteem. And there’s the simple fact of being remembered, the affection that presents symbolize.

Our feast of Christmas was set to coincide with the winter solstice. In these shortest, darkest days of the year, the sun turns its course, climbs the sky again, and daylight begins to lengthen into another spring and summer. Christmas is about the coming of the light into our darkness: “Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light.” At Christmas time, I love to drive on night roads and see a single candle in the window of a house. How mellow and inviting the candle looks. The light seems to have warmth and feeling: “The winter’s night that was so deep, when the world in solemn stillness lay.”

For many, Christmas is a memory of other days. Indeed, Christmas time is a special hell for those who have suffered the loss of an especially dear one. Christmas is our time to be aware of what we lack, of who’s not at home. We are surrounded by the reminiscences of Christmases past. Memories of the dead person pervade our minds and hearts. We ache for the one no longer with us. Jolly Christmas often isn’t jolly.

For many people the Christmas of their childhood has vanished. The circle of their childhood family is gone by death and scattered by distance. There are those who sit cheerless and alone on Christmas, thinking of better times and remembering the faces of those who are dead.

May something be born in each of us this Christmas. May we all; experience a birth of hope. As Titus 3:4 puts it, may we recognize it as a time “when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared.”

May we sense the confidence and joy that shines from the manger. At the heart of reality is mercy. May Christmas revive us. Let us try our best to express our love, to grow closer. May there be an upsurge of friendship.

Let us all have fun this Christmas day,
Let’s play and sing and shout hooray.