B- Feast of the Nativity
By Rev. Joseph McSorley, C.S.P.
Christmas! The odor of is sweetness is in the air today: over each of our homes trembles the magi’s star; our ears are ringing wit the echoes of angel songs. From heaven there hath descended a great light, bathing us all in unearthly splendor. Unto us a Son is born Whose Name is Jesus.
From the memory of the first blessed Christmas night in Bethlehem, go back in spirit, my brethren, to that far more distant day when the human race was still in infancy; and recall the Divine promise of a Redeemer to our fallen parents. Sadly, indeed, they went out from paradise; but yet already in their hearts had blazed up the fires of a hope never to be extinguished through centuries as long and dark as paganism could make them. No matter where man went in his wanderings, no matter to what low and brutish level his soul sank down, that promise still followed him, still hung above his wandering course star-like, still benignly saved him from the utter abandonment of despair. The wide world over-amid the savages of the frozen north, and the far-away tribes of the Orient, on the trackless mountain ranges and the scorched plains alike – everywhere man lived upon the memory of that promise; everywhere he dwelt in the hope of a coming Savior. Among God’s chosen people, that hope became the foundation of a national faith, the inspiring motive of a race’s heroism; and throughout the fortune of their varied and uncertain history, it shone in the splendid colors of the rainbow, in evening cloud, in sunset star. Every midnight horizon would soon be burnished with the glow of dawn. In the words of seer and saint, it burst out prophetically; by victories and my miracles, ir was confirmed. Oh, charm, powerful against despair! O dream of the God to come; the most sublime vision that ever illumined the dark places of the human story!
And here behold its fulfillment. Simple as the tale told by a child; commonplace as the incident of any passing day. Not with whirlwind, nor with earthquake, nor in fire, but as the breathing of a gentle air was the coming of the Lord – quiet, modest, unimpressive, as the delicate shadings of some autumn sunrise, noted only by the artist’s vigilant senses – like the faint, far-off echoing of chimes that only the listening ear detects. Now that we consider it, we are amazed, overcome at its simplicity. Do you not think so? Was it not marvelous that the Creator of heaven and earth should come down among men, should Himself be made man, in so matter-of-fact a manner. Divest the scene of the significance attached by faith, and contemplate it with the eyes of sense alone. Take into account all that is visible and palpable, and take that only. Is there much to capture the imagination, or to startle the mind? The behavior of most of the people who were in the neighborhood is ample evidence that the greatest event of history passed almost entirely unnoticed – poet and consul and emperor were too occupied with their own little affairs even to listen to the report of it. They passed on their way unheeding.
Such was God’s way of acting in that older day; such it is at the present time, my brethren. This fact should make us watchful, heedfull. If we are careless, we may be standing before some wonderful and mighty fact and yet not recognize it. We may be trifling with sublime privileges and wasting divine opportunities. For instance, now! Have we really penetrated into the deeper significance of this present festival, or are we like children content to accept merely the conventional notion of what Christmas means and what Christmas should be made. There is danger, perhaps, lest amide the holly and the green, our hearts expand with human sentiment alone; lest we impart and receive a joy that is all of the earth, earthly; lest to us, Christian and Catholic though we be, this blessed day shall bring no increase of faith, no deepening of trust, no new growth of love in the service of God. Are we, like unbelieving heathen, blind to the real beauty of the Christmas Babe? Are we like the pharisees, so hard of heart, that looked on the Son of God and knew Him not? Frivolous and unaware, do we prattle on about our petty interest, like children scarcely conscious of a darkened death-room? God deserves more than this from us. Arise, awake, be enlightened, O Jerusalem, O city of the soul! For unto us this day is born a Savior Who is Christ the Lord – the Wonderful One, the counselor, the Mighty God, the Son of the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace! Could we but begin to realize what this implies, we should have all that is needed to perfect our hitherto incomplete, misshapen lives – to foster within us the full flower of virtue – to make us fit for association with God – to render us truly religious.
What is religion? Turn aside for the moment from the thought of forms and creed; just for the instant cease to advert to the Church, her Sacraments, her laws, her varied life of devotion. These are divine means for the obtaining of a divine end; but behind them, an inspiring cause, primary, essential, springing out of the very constitution of humanity and the nature of God, is something that may be regarded as at once the justification and the end of all religion – the call of the human soul to loving union with its Maker. That my soul might be finally united to Himself, is the end God had in view in creating me, in redeeming me in accomplishing each one of that long series of miracles of grace which He has wrought for me and for my fellow beings. My life is utterly useless and my soul will perish hopelessly, if I miss that end. Every moment of my existence, every thought and word and act of mine is to be assayed according to the standard of that divine purpose. What makes for union with God is good, noble, holy; what lessens union is vain, fatal, wicked. For just the chance of being united with God explains the true reason of my existence, the reason of the life of every man that ever was created.
The aim of religion then, is to consummate the union of the soul with God. Religion which does not promise that is an absurdity; religion which does not help to realize it is a sham.
But dare any religion give us hope of what is so inconceivably beyond both our merit and our power? You and I; so unimportant, so unlovely! To be sought in love by the Almighty Creator who dug out the sea and hung the stars and shaped the course of heavens flying meteors! Is it in any sense credible that He desires to unite us with Himself in a union more close and intimate than any ever realized by human lovers. The thought of it is almost terrible. Why there is many a mortal here among us so gifted, so famous, so powerful, that you and I would hardly dare aspire to his friendship. And shall we nevertheless hope for companionship, intimacy, loving union with the Omnipotent God. Alas, sure He is too great and we too small.
And if ever God seemed great, this, indeed is the day. Of old, people cherished notions that made of God a sort of larger man. With thoughts as simple as the thoughts of children; with a background painted half-consciously by the imagination; they pictured Him in the likeness of themselves and appreciated but the smallest part of what we know concerning His majestic power. A small stretch of land was then the universe; heaven was swung overhead almost within reach; sun and stars seemed gaps through which celestial light was shining. The God who walked in the garden in the cool of the evening; the God Whose messenger could hardly overcome the wrestling Jacob; He, indeed, might be approached with a hope by no means justified in our own experience. To-day what we knew about the extent of God’s creation appalls the boldest mind. God’s mightiness grows more clear, more vivid, with every step of advancing science. The ocean’s depths are sounded and add wonder after wonder. Life, in plant and animal and man, reveals daily new miracles and mysteries. We look into the distant sky, measure from star to star and are overwhelmed by the endless vista of a universe that is mathematically infinite. In short, the divine majesty has become something we can see and feel, something we can prove, something that strikes home too us and weighs down upon us and crushes us with a sense of our own littleness. We know now the chasm to be bridged ere man can look into the Eyes of God. The noonday of science blazes out in splendor, and as we endeavor to look upward we are stricken blind.
What has religion now to say? Must it not be silent! Ah! Blessed were the ancients in their child-like faith. We wonder at their simplicity and we envy them their bold affection. But we – we who have been made aware of God’s real greatness; on whom there has been impressed so terrifying a sense of his power; dare we presume to call Him friend? We are struck with admiration, indeed; we praise the extent, the proportion and harmony of His work; we cry out proudly with the Psalmist, “Who is a God like unto our God?” But may we venture to add, “The God of no other nation is so near to them as our God is near to us.” Alas! Our inheritance of knowledge oppresses us and the divine magnificence strikes us still. Hope is chilled within our hearts. Our God we will admire; but which of us shall venture to call Him friend?
Beloved, are not your ears still ringing with the angel’s message: “This day is born to you a Savior Who is Christ the Lord?” Turn to the crib of Bethlehem, and there in swaddling clothes, behold your God! He, the everlasting, the Omnipotent, the Infinite, become for love’s sake a Creature, a Human Being, a Baby. That He might come close to us, the Creator of heaven and earth is a little Infant hanging upon His Mother’s Breast.
No word is needed. We look; we meditate; we realize. Now life is changed for us. Henceforth, nothing is impossible; there is nothing we may not hope for, since this is true. We can think of no height too high for human aspiration; no depth too low for God to meet us there. Young man and maiden, father and mother, lisping child and elder of three-score years, all of us kneel beside the Christmas crib, each confident of welcome. Emmanuel! Emmanuel!! Our God is with us.
Ah! Beloved! Praise God that Jesus Christ is born. The Majestic One is not too good, nor great, for us; He is our Friend and Brother. He has come to abide; yes, to abide always – through storm of trial and temptation and sense of weakness and weight, of sin pressed down upon us, He will be with us still – Jesus Christ, yesterday and to-day, and the same forever.