Christmas is a special time to give and to receive, to rejoice in the natural miracle of human generosity. Yet something tragic separates us from the joy of these children, an overwhelming awareness that the cruel world works differently than it does on Christmas morn. With a cynicism we call wisdom, and with a cowardice we call maturity, we all, at some point, stop hoping in the way they hope: we chasten and rebuke our own hearts, letting our deepest longings smolder in silence for fear they will not be fulfilled.
What do our hearts truly desire? Even asking this feels like touching an old wound, but we must insist on the question in spite of any pain: what do we long for most? What joy are we afraid even to dream? The answers come all too easily, for our wishes are clear and they are simple: we want a pro-life culture. We want an end to abortion. We want recognition by all that life begins at the moment of conception. We want universal support for all expectant mothers. We want the illumination of our ideological opponents. And we want healing and peace for all those harmed by the blight of prenatal infanticide that our nation has endured for too long. These are the things that we desire, things that pundits would dismiss as “unrealistic,” and that we ourselves unwittingly malign as idealistic and impossible. And so, confronted with their conventional wisdom, and our own disabling doubt, we must ultimately ask ourselves: dare we hope?
The deepest meaning of God’s Nativity is that He surpasses our every hope, giving us more than we could ever imagine. The apparition of angels from Heaven—not to the great ones of the day, but to humble shepherds in the field—is already an impossible gift. But the “Good News” that these messengers announce is something so confounding and unthinkable that two millennia have not been sufficient for mankind to fathom the Mystery that they joyfully proclaim: that, in the words of John’s Gospel, “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” (Jn 1:14)
In a strange way, the Roman martyrs knew better than we do what was altered by the event that the angels announce. Like us, these Romans were educated and urbane; like us, they understood how the world really worked. Yet, perhaps because their culture celebrated the winter solstice with the Saturnalia, those carnival days in which all norms were entirely overturned, they grasped the implicit meaning of Christ’s Advent in December intuitively. They knew that, with Christ’s coming, everything is changed: earthly power had been forever shattered, and death itself was now no longer the end.
The sober explanatory epistles that Justin Martyr wrote under the sentence of death to the Stoic Roman Emperor Aurelius breathe with this difference: they show us a novel form of reasonableness, and they work from a new kind of conventional wisdom. In the same Spirit, Ignatius writes “to all the churches,” charging them all “to know that I die willingly for God.”
An American president of recent memory campaigned on change and hope, encouraging a credulous electorate to aspire beyond the bound of their constrained yearnings. Those aspirations were soon disappointed—but, of course, they had to be: having promised what the world always promises, that leader gave as the world always gives: partially, falsely, and always with an eye to self-interest.
The permanent, full, and self-sacrificing gift of the Father, the manifestation of His Only-Begotten, His Beloved who sleeps in a stable in Bethlehem, is a blessing of a different kind. For His Son is the first footprint of the New Jerusalem on Earth, the Dauphin whose arrival unfolds the sovereignty of God’s Kingdom among us, that gentle rule of love which overturns the fatal coldness that reigns in the hearts of the world’s violent powers.
Trusting in the ultimate victory of that Love that looks through death, let us dare to dream the same audacious dreams that children do on Christmas Eve, so that we may also obtain what even prayer does not dare to hope for. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Is 9:6).
We at The Interim wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas and peace and joy in the coming year.