Saturday, December 22, 2012

Preparing for the Nativity

Over the next few days, I would like to offer a few quotes to direct the mind toward the way the Nativity has been and still is celebrated and conceived of in the world. Naturally, in the States and much of Europe, the Feast of the Nativity has been replaced by the ho-ho-holy night when Saint Nicholas breaks into suburban homes to fill stockings with Apple products, but this turn in the observation of Christ's birth is relatively recent and largely localized. The real "war on Christmas" has been waged by those who believe that the essence of the holy day rests in public manger scenes and the shibboleth "Christmas" and who forget that the real manger was hidden away where the poorest of the poor slept on a ground of mixed dirt and livestock feces and that the baby within it was attended to only by a marginal minority whose names are forgotten.

Leo the Great is right to call the Nativity a mystery. The virgin birth, the shining star, the visiting magi, the announcing angels, the murderous ruler, and the supreme king converge in a moment that, truly understood, should bring us a joy that transcends gifts and feasts and winter ambiance and even that laudatory idol of familial affection.

The things which are connected with the mystery of today’s solemn feast are well known to you, dearly-beloved, and have frequently been heard: but as yonder visible light affords pleasure to eyes that are unimpaired, so to sound hearts does the Saviour’s nativity give eternal joy; and we must not keep silent about it, though we cannot treat of it as we ought.

For Leo's listeners, the Nativity was a familiar remembrance, one so familiar that they needed to be reminded how eternal were its joys. Now, I fear, we don't think about it at all.

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