More than ever this year, I’ve noticed how many people don’t celebrate, and perhaps even disdain, Christmas. I’ve even picked up some undercurrents of pride in the non-celebration, as though neglecting to observe Christmas is a sign of tolerance and high-mindedness.
If all Christmas is, is decorations, lights, retail profits and consumer goods, then maybe they’re right.
But if Christmas is God Come to Man, Emmanuel, in every generation, then the failure to stop and take a deep breath and look out on the world with more observant eyes, is a kind of madness.
As Frank Sheed said, “To overlook God’s presence is not simply to be irreligious; it is a kind of insanity, like overlooking anything else that is actually there.”
So the real question at this time of year is: “Is it true?” Not “Do I enjoy it, do I agree with it, does it please me, do I owe it to the American economy to participate?”
The only question that matters is: “Is it true? Did God Himself, the ground of all being, the artist and poet and maker of all that is, who is and was and will be… did He, against all human sense, come to be with us in the most powerless and vulnerable way? As an infant, for crying out loud?”
It would be a pretty implausible story, if you hadn’t heard it all your life. And maybe that’s the best way to encounter it. For a minute, try to hear it for the very first time.
Really, it’s quite mad! Why would God do such a thing?! He knew that pride and weakness dwell in the hearts of humans; He must have known the whole enterprise would come to a bad end. A defenseless child in a hostile world… what could He be thinking? We have the sad example all around us of how risky it is to be an innocent child.
Knowing what humans are capable of, God still came to us and He made sure to come in a way that could never be taken as coercion or intimidation.
His very vulnerability allows our characters to emerge. When we encounter pure goodness, does it threaten us? Reproach us so uncomfortably that we push it away or try to eliminate it, so we can go back to being comfortable the way we are? Or does it break our hearts and make us want to eschew everything else in order to be close to it? Does it carve off of us the debris of a dissipated life and make us long for goodness, at any price?
We write our characters onto this innocent God. Pure goodness calls us out, one way or another.
Look out tonight and see it all for the first time, this crazy love that God has for us. He knows our nature and yet entrusts himself to us. Be amazed; be broken like a field ready for sowing.