I recently read something that quoted a mystic who said that “human nature is like a stable inhabited by the ox of passion and the ass of prejudice.” The two are animals which take up a lot of room and which I suppose most of us are feeding on our own and in the quiet of our lives. And it is there between them, pushing them out, that Christ must be born and in the very manger in which they dwell he must be laid—and they will be the first to fall on their knees before him. It seems to me that sometimes we Christians can seem far nearer to the animals than to Christ in his simple poverty, self-abandoned to God.
Every Christian is called to radiate and reflect the glowing epiphany of God. To catch and reflect his golden Light. You are the light of the world — but only because you are made radiant by the one true Light of the world. And being thus kindled, we have got to get on with it and to be useful. Some people, for whatever reason, make a virtue out of hiding their faith. Certainly it seems our modern society seems to place an emphasis on keeping faith a private affair. The secular world would have us dim or even put out that Light, whether by engaging in the so-called War on Christmas or in the ceaseless argument that Christmas is merely a pagan celebration of the winter solstice co-opted by Christians. It doesn’t matter to me whether it was December 25th when Christ was born because it is not the mere date on the calendar that is itself holy, but what it represents. In both instances these people resemble the ox of passion (for they certainly have passion when it comes to the Culture Wars) and asses in their prejudice against Christianity. They would take up all the room in the manger and keep the Light from radiating. Both have missed the whole point, which is better spelled out below.
Perhaps the hardest thing to remember about Christmas is this: It celebrates the incarnation, not just the nativity. The incarnation is an on-going process of salvation, while the nativity is the once-for-all-historical event of Bethlehem. We do not really celebrate Christ’s ‘birthday,’ remembering something that happened long ago. We celebrate the stupendous fact of the incarnation, God entering our world so thoroughly that nothing has been the same since. And God continues to take flesh in our midst, in the men and women and children who form his body today. And the birth we celebrate is not just the past historical event but Christ’s continuing birth in his members, accomplished by the power of the Spirit through the waters of baptism.
What we celebrate at Christmas is our redemption in Christ and the transformation of all creation by the presence of the divine in our midst.
Sourcebook, 1996. Liturgy Training Publ.
The Sancta Sanctorum Icon
Detail: The Nativity
Palestinian, 6th century
Painted wooden box for pilgrim’s mementoes of the Holy Land
Museo Sacro Cristiana, Vatican City
The full detail of this image is here.