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The Wonder of the Birth of Our Lord

Jeff-Weese-CC

James V. Schall, S.J. - published on 12/24/14

The second consequence of our having an origin in the Godhead is that, while we are related to others of our kind—we are familial, social, and political beings–we are also present to God who sustains our being in its very existence. Something inexhaustible is discovered in each human being reflecting back on himself. As we proceed to know one another, we always find some inexhaustible depth in ourselves and in our neighbor, something that we did not put there, something we cannot fully fathom. Our being reaches the Godhead in which the idea of our existence first resided. St. Augustine, in his Confessions, guides us to the understanding that God is not only in the world but also within us, sustaining us, loving us. This divine presence is the source of our dignity, of the fact that even God treats us after the manner of His creation, after the manner of what we are. This truth is why our relation to God is both indirect through the things that are and direct through our reflecting on the divine presence sustaining us in being, in loving us.

We can, of course, refuse to be what we are. This refusal explains, in part, why we have “The Nativity” of the Child of the Holy Family. “Nativity” here means, not just the birth of any given person, but the birth of the Son of God into this world at a definite time and in a definite place, when Caesar Augustus was Roman Emperor. Early Christian heresies are largely complicated efforts not to admit that Christ, the Child born in Bethlehem, was both true man, hence born of woman, and true God, hence the Son of the Father within the Godhead, the Logos, the eternally begotten Word who fully knows the Father. But this Christ was born in the City of David. He is Christ the Lord. This Nativity of the Son into the world is sometimes called by Church Fathers His “second” birth, since He was first born, begotten not made, of or from the Father within the Trinity before all ages, a phrase that does not imply a time when the Word was not.

But like all births, Christ’s birth was also a looking forward. Simeon warned Mary that a sword would pierce her heart. And it did. The Nativity of Christ begins a relatively short life of only thirty-three years, much of which was “hidden”, as they say. Looking back on Christ’s life, the evangelists began to consider what they knew of Christ’s birth and the town he lived in. Subsequent generations recalled what they knew of Christ’s birth in the light of his subsequent life. They often tried to reproduce or narrate its setting. Simeon, on seeing this Child in the Temple with his parents tells us that “my eyes have seen the salvation of Israel”. Imagine saying this! “My” eyes have seen, not thought about, the “salvation” while he was looking at an Infant.

“Salvation” first had to do with a person, then, on His maturity, on His explaining what it is He knew of His Father, of His plan for our salvation. The Nativity of Christ is not an abstraction; it is not just a nice idea. It is a real birth. And who is this Child? Why bother about Him? If He were just another child born into the Roman Empire, we would not need to pay so much attention to Him. But if He is indeed the Word, the Son of the Father, made man, the whole world is changed. But we can find reasons not to accept this fact. We can find reasons to deny that it is a fact. What we cannot do is change the fact. The Christian calendar calls each year after this birth “in Anno Domini — in the Year of the Lord. Hence, this year lies in Anno Domini, 2014.

Has the full reason why Christ became men been completed? Evidently not. Why not? No doubt, it has much to do with “the day and the hour known only to the Father”, with the purpose of this Incarnation, with the constant re-presentation to mankind in the Nativity that, yes, this was the Son of God sent into your world. There will not be another. All needed evidence has already been presented. Each year this Nativity is celebrated again. Its story, its songs, its lore are known to us. We notice an increasing rejection of it, a wanting not even to hear about it. “Why is this?” we wonder. In spite of the evidence, many want it not to be true. They build their lives and their polities on this premise. Two kinds of “silent night” exist. One is rooted in awe and glory; the other in the rejection of the two gifts, the two nativities that constitute our being and our salvation.  

James V. Schall, S.J., who served as a professor at Georgetown University for thirty-five years, is one of the most prolific Catholic writers in America. His most recent book is The Classical Moment: Selected Essays on Knowledge and Its Pleasures  (St. Augustine Press, 2014).

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