The Christian & Christmas

by Killian McDonnell, OSB

         The Christian has often been accused of being, almost by definition, a suspicious creature. Because we are pilgrims in this world, we tend, so the accusation goes, to be suspicious of the good things of this life which might divert us from the good things in the life to come. The Christian is not a true person, not a whole person, because we are suspicious of the body, physical beauty, sex, great literature, art. The Christian, the accusation ends with a flourish, is a person of fears; he is a person who goes about being careful.

There is just enough truth in the accusation to make it dangerous. The Christian is not suspicious. But the Christian is no fool. We are not deceived. We love the world which God made. In this world we love all that God has given us the power to make. The Christian honors the body, physical beauty, sex, truly great literature, true art, but we are not deceived by them. The true Christian does not cling to the body or to beauty or to anything created as if they were the final, definitive goal of all striving. These earthly things are all good. But the Christian is not deceived by their goodness. We do not consider them the ultimate, the highest good. What the Christian seeks is a good that is not reducible to dust, a good that is more durable than time.

As a Christian we use the things of this world, but we do not rest in them. The Christian is not a suspicious creature. But we are, almost by definition, a restless creature. We are restless because the good we seek is our God. And we will be restless until we rest in God.

The Christian loves God's world and all that is good in it. The Christian is restless in this world which we love. There is a paradox here, a mystery which is not fully understandable. The Christian is a person of two worlds: we are pilgrims in this world and a citizen of the next world. The Christian is a person of two loves: the beauty of this world which perishes and the beauty of the next world that endures. A person of two worlds and two loves, we Christians find our vocation a mystery which we live as best we can, but one which we do not pretend to fully understand. We gain some insight into the mystery that is our life by studying and praying another mystery, the Church's celebration of our Lord's birth, the feast of Christmas. The one mystery will clarify the other, but in the end they both remain mysteries. In order to understand the mystery of Christmas better, we will study first the fact of Christ's birth and then how the Church prepares for and celebrates that fact.

First of all, the fact of Our Lord's birth. St. John, attempting to express what cannot be expressed, says quite simply, "The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us." "Flesh," St. John says. He could have said, "The Word was made man," but he wanted to say that God had touched matter, had taken it to Himself, so he used the bolder word, "flesh." Matter, whether stone, or wood, or body, had always had something holy about it, because it came from God. But now matter, especially the body, took on a new holiness, because the Son of God had taken on a human body, flesh. Living in this body, Christ experienced all, sin excepted, that we experience. He breathed our air, washed in our water, and as a carpenter put board to board to make a bench. God Himself came to earth and lived, loved, wept, and died. He did not despise matter, but took flesh to Himself and made all matter holy. He lived our life and died our death and made them holy.

On Christmas day the Church celebrates two events: one past and one future.  The past event is the coming of Our Lord at Bethlehem. The future event is the coming of Our Lord at the end of time.

His coming at the end of time is announced on the First Sunday of Advent: "They will see the Son of Man coming upon a cloud, coming with great power and majesty." The whole of Advent is spent instilling us with the desire for Christ's Second Coming. The Epistle to Titus of the Midnight Christmas Mass mentions the birth at Bethlehem: "Beloved: The grace of God has appeared, saving all and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly , and devoutly in this age, as we await the blessed hope, the appearance of the glory of our great God and savior Jesus Christ...”

A great restlessness comes over the Church during Advent. She will be restless until the Second Coming, until she can rest in Him. "Lord, come!" are words she repeats with a persistence which mounts almost to impatience. These sentiments may seem strange to us, that we pray for the end of the world and Christ's Second Coming. St. Paul did not think it strange, for he defined Christians as "those who love his (Second) Coming."

Because Christ became flesh, He made matter and all earthly things holy. Though the Christian loves the things Christ has made holy, they will pass away when Christ comes again. The Christian will not be deceived by the goodness of the body, physical beauty, sex, literature, art. Theirs is not a lasting goodness. What we seek is a goodness that no disease can destroy, no extent of time can fade, a pleasure that is not for a moment but for eternity, a delight that is ever new, and a beauty that neither time nor eternity can exhaust.

The Christian is not a suspicious creature, but we are a restless creature. Our restlessness in this world is not a result of Puritanism, nor of a lofty contempt. Our restlessness is dictated by love and desire for a good we will possess only when we possess God.

Condensed from The Restless Christian by Fr. Killian McDonnell. 1957, The Order of Benedict, Inc. Collegeville, Minnesota

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