The blog of the Dominican student brothers at Blackfriars, Oxford.

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Nativity of our Lord

Tuesday, December 25, 2007
Two years ago, I had the most beautiful celebration of Christmas I have ever had in my life. There was no incense or sparkling chasubles, no gleaming liturgical vessel, no elaborated liturgy, no endless rehearsal with the choir, no carols sung joyfully by a half-sleepy congregation, no turkey, no hazy Boxing Day … None of these things we might usually expect. Nothing but a Eucharist in its simplest form celebrated with my family in my mother’s room, in the hospital where she was living her last days … Life is sometimes paradoxical. In the heart of our suffering, profound joy can be sometimes discerned and the voice of the Lord who says ‘I am with you’ can be heard. And the Incarnation is the great mystery that destroys all our categories and securities. Our gaze is sometimes too weak to see and understand him: whilst in the Old Testament, God was presented as creating by separation, the new creation we celebrate today is a creation that put together things that are seemingly impossible to reconcile, God and Man.

In a wonderful sermon on the Virgin Mother, Saint Bernard writes about this paradox and about the many wonders and prodigies of the Incarnation. In the Incarnation, he says, we can behold ‘Eternity shortened, Immensity contracted, Sublimity leveled down, Profundity made shallow. We can contemplate the Light without splendor, the Word without speech, Water which is thirsty, and Bread that feels hunger. We see Omnipotence being ruled, Omniscience being instructed, Virtue supported, God feeding at the breast whilst he nourishes the angels.’ But what is not less astonishing, in the Incarnation of our Lord, we can discover ‘sadness giving joy, fear producing confidence, suffering a source of health, death communicating life, weakness imparting strength.’ In a sense, the mystery of the Incarnation turns upside-down all our categories. We can see the beauty in a dying person in a hospital, not as if pain and suffering could give any meaning to anything at all, but simply because within flaws and rifts, we can discern the feeble strength and the discrete presence of the One who walks with us. Grass sometimes grows on the sand ...

So, the wonderful mystery of the Incarnation we celebrate today invites us to discern the mysterious presence of God, not outside, but within our lives. And this might be difficult to do, because sometimes, we do not accept the tenderness of God. We do not want a God crying and suffering. We would like a God in front of whom we bow, with incense, sparkling chasubles, gleaming liturgical vessels, and elaborated liturgy … and not a God kneeling. But the Incarnation of our Lord shows us that a God who manifests himself clearly as God is not God but simply the King of the World. God is with us. God is within us. Merry Christmas!


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