Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 27, 2004
Winter must have Christmas' joy
God's extravagant gift to humanity comes to each of us December 25
My Glass is Half Full
By MARK PICKUP
In C.S. Lewis' wonderful children's book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, a mythical little Faun named Tumnus introduces the reader to a country (Narnia) where it is always winter, but never Christmas. How dreadful that would be!
Long cold winters are endurable precisely because Christmas brightens them. I am not referring to the lights, garland, tinsel and Christmas baking - although they are all very nice, especially the baking. I am referring to that sense of joy that lies beneath all the trimmings and traditions we hold so dear.
It's cold and frosty outside, but inside it's warm and welcoming (or it should be). In a corner or in front of a window, a brightly decorated Christmas tree twinkles. Winter's dreary dormancy is broken by carols heralding the light and life of Christ.
The children know
Even small children can sense the joy of Christmas. Although they cannot identify the source of this joy - at a subliminal level, it is Christ, not a jolly man in a red suit. The Incarnation is God's great and most extravagant gift to humanity. It is his highest expression of love.
Christmastime brings into sharp focus crucial ironies and paradoxes. It's strange, but God uses irony and paradox to illustrate essential truths closest to his heart. You can find scores of them throughout Scripture, as well as the words and life of Jesus Christ:
Those who are last in this world will be first in the next, those who are first now will be last then (Matthew 18:1-4; 19.30, Luke 1:52; 16.25).
In weakness we find strength. In our own strength we find weakness (Isaiah 2:12; 2 Corinthians 12:9).
In life we find death, in death we find life (John 12:24-25).
Nowhere is irony more evident than the Incarnation. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says this about the Incarnation: "The coming of God's Son to earth is an event of such immensity that God willed to prepare for it over centuries. He makes everything converge on Christ" (no. 522).
At a given moment in history, all creation, the heavens and the eternal converged at a lowly manger in Bethlehem. Even 2,000 years later, all humanity is invited into the manger where we discover our internal poverty of spirit in light of the infant Messiah. It is in this humbled state that we can become rich.
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3).
It is this essential human state of spiritual poverty that prepares us for the kingdom of God. The Scriptures tell us that Jesus' disciples asked him who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus responded by calling a little child to him and said"
"Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3-4).
But turn from what? The commentary in my New American Catholic Study Bible expands the spiritual concept further: "The child is held up as a model for the disciples, not because of any supposed innocence of children, but because of their complete dependence on, and trust in, their parents." God wants us to enter child-like faith and trust in him, through Christ Jesus.
It seems that only in a state of spiritual poverty is a proud humanity capable of accepting its need to utterly depend and trust God, the heavenly Father. That is when we are teachable. But what can the child in the manger teach us? Everything that matters!
Commune with God
Christmas calls through detestable barriers of personal autonomy (so prized in North America) and invites each individual to embrace human interdependence and step across a threshold into "community" under his lordship. Many will respond for the season then retreat behind their treasured personal autonomy.
But the Christ of the manger is also the Christ of the Passion and the Resurrection. He invites us to linger under the threshold of human community and interdependence and, perhaps, to stay throughout the year. The Christ of Christmas invites us to answer "Yes!" to that ancient question "Am I my brother's keeper?" (Genesis 4:9).
O Tumnus! A place where it is always winter but never Christmas would be a terrible place indeed. Every life has its seasons. To imagine being in the winter of life - struggling with disease, sorrow, failure or bereavement - without the hope of Christmas would be unbearable. It would be as though God had abandoned the human race.
There are people who want to take Christ out of Christmas. They do not understand what they seek. The fairytale of a jolly little fat man in a red suit may suffice for people unable to tolerate sound doctrine, but is it no replacement for the truth and immensity of the Incarnation.
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