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Nativity of The Lord

Thursday, December 25, 2014
The Nativity of The Lord, which we celebrate today, is perhaps the most beguiling event one can conceive. It is not only children whose imaginations are captivated by the Christmas story, but the minds of all that seek God, all who seek truth. Awestruck at this singular event in human history, we naturally ask questions such as “why?”; “how?”; and, "what should I do in response?"

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth”.  These evocative words we have just heard from the prologue of St. John’s Gospel are familiar and yet mystifying. The English rendering of the Greek as “dwelt among us” does not fully coney the depth of the original Greek phrase, which could be translated as, "He pitched His tent among us”. Our Lord Jesus came from heaven as one of us, lived beside us, and ultimately died for us.

Why did God do this? To this question, as with so many others, St. Thomas Aquinas proposes an answer: "The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods.” If this language seems striking, it should! Of course it is striking that an all-powerful God should become man so that we could come to know Him, love Him and have everlasting life with Him. The last phrase that St. Thomas uses is especially puzzling so let me add that we become like gods in the sense that through our Baptism and union with Christ, we are drawn into the inner life of the Blessed Trinity.

"In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” This is how Our Lord Jesus comes to us: as a human child, as one of his own, to bring life to the dead, to shine his light in the darkness of our hearts. The contrast of light and darkness is particularly fitting when one considers that winter solstice was originally dated 25th December, and that according to tradition Christ was born at Midnight. In other words, on this view: Christ our Light comes at the darkest point in the darkest night. He comes to us not only as his people, but personally. The sage and poet John Betjemen captures our natural astonishment at this fact:

And is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window's hue,
A Baby in an ox's stall ?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me?

What should be our response? In the Incarnation, God has become present to us in a new way. We would do well to ask how we can present ourselves to him in a new way? How can we better follow the Christian vocation to love God and love our neighbour? G. K. Chesterton said, “Now Christmas is built on a beautiful and intentional paradox that the birth of the homeless should be celebrated in every home”.

In the first place, we can love our neighbour by loving them as God's children, especially when like Christ, they are homeless. It's a problem which sadly persists beyond Chesterton’s time in a time great affluence in relative terms. Why not buy a poor man a coffee text time you see one on the street? After all, care for our neighbour is a matter not only of divine injunction but of basic humanity and we would do well to take the opportunity presented to us at Christmas to be more charitable, more generous, more loving. Secondly, we can love God in simple ways by making room in our homes and our lives for Him - He, whom the world, even at his birth, “received him not”. And yet, though physical space is important, it is not enough. The real answer to the question of how to respond to Christmas, it seems to me, is captured in the final stanza of my favourite Christmas Carol:

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man
I would do my part;
Yet what I can, I give Him -
Give my heart.

The Christ child, our Lord, gives us the promise of happiness in this life and heaven in the next. Unworthy, poor as I am, he asks in return for my resources - as brought by Shepherd in Rossetti’s poem, my talents - as with the Wise Men, and if I would only give him my heart, He will shine His light. Let this be our response: the gift of our hearts to Him this Christmas, and forever.

Samuel Burke O.P.

Br Samuel Burke O.P. Fr Samuel Burke is based in St Albert the Great in Edinburgh, where he serves as a university chaplain.  |  samuel.burke@english.op.org


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