When Christ left this world, Tiberius sat on the throne of Rome, and Rome sat proud and potent over its many conquered lands. Israel was a far-flung province at the Empire’s ever expanding edge, and the Jews feared Rome, just as Christ’s followers feared the Jews. Nevertheless, with His last words, Christ exhorted His small and fearful handful of followers to “teach all the nations,” (Mt 28:19) and preach without fear an unwritten gospel to an unbaptized world.
These disciples had watched as the foretold mystery of the Messiah unfolded before them; however, it did not make them martyrs. When Christ disappeared, so did their courage. At the Crucifixion, they fled; and, after the Ascension, they hid – as if to prove the words of their Master’s parable: “they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (Lk 16:31).
And so, like us, the earliest witnesses of Christ found themselves before an alien culture which worshiped strange gods. They faced a world which recognized no power higher than the state and the decadent deities that sustained it; a world, casual about life and the mysterious act which engenders it; a world unconvinced of the dignity of man. And before it, they cowered.
Yet, it was this world that, in the small span of three centuries, these disciples set on fire with words and deeds of a new and radical form of love. Up from the catacombs and out of the fatal circus arena, the Church rose with a prominence and rapidity that amazed the world that it also converted. Christ said that He came “to set the world on fire” (12:49), and, truly, the conflagration spread by His followers consumed it quickly, kindled as it was by the tinder of empty hearts.
But, like the flow of a volcanic vein, the flame of the early Church spread, cooled, and eventually hardened. The human form of the God-Man disappeared into the distant Deity of Enlightenment treatises; in time, virtues became values, and values became relative. A complacent culture haunted by the memory of its creedal past is now all that remains of what was once called Christendom; and, if the glowing embers of the Gospel still burn brightly, they do so only in the far corners of the world, where vicious persecutions attempt to stamp them out.
The world – once bound to the false gods and now enthralled by the fallacious ideas of utopian progress – languishes in invisible chains, awaiting a re-evangelization, a second Pentecost. It longs to receive the message which will make it again what it never was, at least within the lifetime of its members: truly free and under God.
To a world without ears, deafened by the din of ideologies and opinions, we must preach the Gospel in pantomime. We must live out the beauty of the Christian message through the lives we make with our families day by day. We must defend a married life which open to offspring by enjoying – shamelessly, publicly, and joyfully – its sacred fruit: the gift of children. The Gospel of Life is not spread first through words, but through life itself.
The mystery of Christmas is the message we would preach. The wordless Word, the speechless Infant in blissful rest in the arms of His mother, is an announcement sweeter than any eloquence, a succinct and silent summation of what we would impart. As the Word took flesh for our sake, so our flesh must become the syllables of His message for our time; we must speak the Word with language of our lives.
The harvest is once again plentiful, but the workers, as always, are few. Christ’s first coming was to the cold world in a cave; the Holy Spirit’s fire first burst forth in the closed space of the upper room. Christian culture again springs from the humble beginnings which we are blessed to be. And so, at Christmas we adore the Word we also announce, in the advent of a God with no cradle but our human arms.
We at The Interim wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas and a New Year filled of joy.