Jesus Christ, “given unto us” (Isa 9.6): This true Man has been the subject of the most
sublime contemplation, worship, and love imaginable for over two thousand years. Even agnostics marvel over his Person and teachings. And His enemies, of whatever variety, obsess over Him to this very day.
For in that crib, the Church attests, was one who is far “greater than Abraham, Moses, Solomon, or Jonas (Lk 11:31, 32; Jn 1:17,8:58, Phil 2:8-10,Col 2:8,9). In that lowly crib lay the very Logos of God, the Word, Who, “in the beginning,” was “with” the Father and, indeed, was “one” with Him and the Holy Ghost from all eternity (Jn 1:1; 10:31; 17:24; Mt 28:19). No longer was God so utterly Other that one could not, without sin, speak His name or paint His image. Rather, the “Word was made flesh and dwelt among us”, in time and space. Truly the unthinkable has occured, and God Himself, out of His own unfathomable grace and mercy, has cut His own image in time, in history, the exact “figure of His substance”, saying to the Father, “a body thou hast fitted to me” (Heb 1:3; 10:5); so that the Apostle John, almost swooning in praise and adoration of this “Good News”, extolled Him [Whom]
“we have heard, which we have seen with our own eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have touched, of the Word of Life” (1Jn 1:1).
This is why anointed artists could henceforth lawfully paint His image and speak His holy name –Jesus–which was given to Him in obedience to the heavenly messenger by the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph.
This is why the iconoclasts in every age, since that Holy Night, have been wrong, woefully blind to the reality of God’s becoming man “to save His people from their sins”. For God Himself has circumscribed an image for us in Christ Jesus, Who now belongs forever not only to eternity but also, through the incarnation, to history, even in His glorified body in heaven: He is forever, as the Creed declares, true God and true man.
St. John of Damascus, writing in the eighth century against the Iconoclasts, said:
“When you contemplate God becoming man, then you may depict Him clothed in human form. When the invisible One becomes visible to flesh you may then draw His likeness. When He Who is bodiless and without form, immeasurable in the boundlessness of His own nature, existing in the form of God, empties Himself and takes the form of a servant in substance and in stature, and is found in a body of flesh then you may draw His image and show it to anyone willing to gaze upon it… his birth from a Virgin, His baptism in the Jordan, His Transfiguration on Tabor, His sufferings which freed us from passion, His death, His miracles which are signs of His divine nature…His savings cross, the resurrection, the ascension…”
The Incarnation in its entirety shouts the unspeakable humility and love of God in Himself and toward sinners. From the first moment of the Word’s conception in the Womb of the Virgin Mary, we behold the unutterable condescension of God, revealed as Love.
Here is no mythological construction. This is the true God, the Maker of heaven and earth, exploding every human mytho- logical construct and entering into hans history, splashing it with the Blood of redemption during the imperial reign of Rome under Rome’s Judean Procurator, Pontius Pilate. So real and, at the same time, so sublime was this consummation of revelation that St. Paul declares “if they had known it, they never would have crucified the Lord of Glory” (1 Cor
But alas, He “was in the world and the world was made by Him and the world knew him not” (Jn 1:10) Have any more poignant, heartbreaking, words ever been penned? This is about the God of love, the personal Origin of the universe, Who acts in history and Who demythologized the ancient world, putting to flight all its sordid superstitions and capricious, lusty gods.
Here is the mystery and wonder: What could not happen, in terms of mere human reckoning and human calculation, has in deed happened in Jesus Christ! This Messianic hope, now fulfilled, was beyond all carnal expectation. It was foolishness to the greek philosophers and a stumbling block to the Jews (1 Cor. 1:23).
All other religions may boast fallible gurus or rabbis, but the true wise men, “from the east”, abased themselves, renouncing any claim to finality and ultimacy, laying their gifts before that crib of Bethlehem, before the One Who “was God”, “made flesh and dwelt among us”, the King of kings and Lord of lords, Who alone possesses “all Power in heaven and on earth”, Lord of all creation, the sole Authority destined to rule all nations (Mt. 28:18). It is He alone Who can give the world “rest”, completion, peace. (Mt. 11:28-30). All others must be “thieves and robbers” (Jn 10:1)
He came to save. From birth, the human life is a project, a question, a journey and a becoming. What will become of us is the question and the journey. From the time we attain to the age of reason the human person is confronted with good and evil, and the choice is layed before us, as it was for Adam in the primordial garden. Riddled with impediments we move toward the mysterious goal, toward wholeness, completion, toward forgiveness and meaning, if we do not resist the grace of God.
Aware of our awareness, we wonder about ouselves, about our baffling existence, its meaning, or lack of it, our hopes and fears and sufferings. Threatened on all sides, harrassed by finitude, fearful of the grave, curious about sin and guilt, forever seeking distractions in amusements, fearful of the solitude which raises all the questions, we stumble onward, up the Mountain of time to the consummation, for good or ill. Puzzled and intrigued by “the Good, the True, and the Beautiful,” the human person seeks fullness, turning over every wrong stone for its glint and dubious promise. Afraid of rejection from peers, of not fitting in, desperate for approval and hating ourselves for it, we squander time in youth and lust for it in old age. Every defective striving, every stumbling, every dashed hope, implying the split, the Original wound, the Homesickness,
Seeking “home” in wealth, seeking it in flesh, in money, career, and in so many other wrong places. Home: the place from whence we came, of belonging, the return to our Source, healing the split, the alienation.
Little by little, if we persevere without resistance, we sense that we are being led, sense spiritual vistas opening before us despite all stumblings, the search itself so telling, like an exodus from one world to another.
More than ever we become aware of the great thirst that begs to be quenched or is absurd, the hunger that must be fed or which mocks us, the curiosity prodding even when our spirits wilt, a curiosity that is natural or futile, anxiety without end. It all spins on choice.
And, on our death-bed, toward the final agony, if resistance to the grace of God threatens to prevail, we take stock of everything, every suffering, every love, every hate, and wonder (if we don’t know by now) what it was all about, whether it was worth it, whether we pursued the wrong things in the wrong way; and whether it is all at an end now, and what that will mean.
Was it all a joke? A dream?
Only the believer can answer this question in peace. And in his extremity, somewhere near the top of the Mountain, the believer beholds- or finds again– the Babe in a crib; and a Cross. His Mother is also there. “I am the light of the world,” the Savior says, “He that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (Jn 8:12).
And we collapse, exhausted from the journey, into His “rest”. In that moment we know it is grace which opened our eyes if we choose aright, the grace bestowed freely upon us in Baptism. We know we could never find this vision with our own natural eyes. We need a light from heaven to pierce the darkness and the emptiness of sin.
Holy writ speaks plainly. “Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my paths” which alone can guide us safely through the darkness up the Mountain and into the Interior Castle of rest, contemplation, and eternal thanksgiving (Ps. 118:105). It is written, Jesus stood and cried, saying: If any man thirst, let him come to me & drink‘ On 7:37).
Our whole being begs for this quenching, this bottomless draft of forgiveness.
Proceeding in fullness from the Light of the Incarnation, both the word of God (Ps. 118: 105) and the Church (1 Tim 3:15) are the lights given to the world to guide us infallibly through the darkness to the Mountain’s summit, our heavenly Home, for the Word and the Church are forever an indivisible light. How wrong that man, Luther, was to attempt to rip
asunder such a celestial light and with what sorrowful consequences!
The Word of God is truth (Jn 17:17) just as the Church of the living God is “the ground and pillar of Truth” (1Tim 3:15). And these both proceed inseparably from the One Who entered our history, time and space, through the manger and cave at Berhlehem from the One Who is “the Way, the Truth and the Life On 14.6).
The Church, being the very Body of Christ in the world. is the gift of Christmas to all mankind, pouring forth all truth and mercy through Tradition and Holy Scriptures, and unmasking all the vain commercialism and greed which sullies so much that surrounds this Holy day.
To depart from the Church’s proclamation is to relapse into darkness. It is a sad thing to note that the Fundamentalist spirit, whether in its classic or modernist form, in the end, gets what it deserves. But this confusion and lawlessness is intended as a penance, pointing back to the City of God, to the Church which is forever set
on a hill for the salvation all men of good will, who, despite the darkness, will not fail to find her if they seek her with all their hearts.
The infant Child of Bethleham is in His Church, afterall, waiting to be found, in the Sacraments, especially in Holy Mass, as surely as He was in the crib and cave, in poverty, 2,000 years ago. And Mary and St. Joseph and all the angels are also there with him, praying for our victory. And if we are to be “wise men” today, we will receive Him”, Treasure without measure, and not miss His gift for the world. —Editor
* St. John Damascus, On the Divine Images, St. Vladimirs Seminary Press, Crestwood, NY 1980 p.18