One small piece of the moment: The priest sounds out the rhythm of history. “In the year … from the birth of Abraham, two thousand and fifteen; from Moses and the coming of the Israelites out of Egypt, one thousand, five hundred and ten; from the anointing of King David, one thousand and thirty-two; in the sixty-fifth week, according to the prophecy of Daniel; in the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad; in the year seven hundred and fifty-two from the founding of the city of Rome; in the forty-second year of the empire of Octavian Augustus, when the whole earth was at peace, in the sixth age of the world, Jesus Christ, eternal God, and Son of the eternal Father, desirous to sanctify the world by His most merciful coming, having been conceived of the Holy Ghost, and nine months having elapsed since his conception, is born in Bethlehem of Juda, having become man of the Virgin Mary.”
The birth of Jesus. God, the One absolutely beyond, the absolutely Other, enters our existence.
We sit in the basilica surrounded by light and shadows. I know and feel my infirmities too well, physical and mental, the essential weakness of my being. Then the music and words ring out. The foundational organizing principle of reality shows itself. We see the universe, the very Creator of all that is, revealed in brief blinding flashes. Rather than overwhelming us, the revelation comforts.
Why a baby? The processional winds past us, children carrying a doll baby to place in the crèche. Why does Reality show itself as a baby? Someone who was born, lived, and died. Someone who cried and nursed, who grew into an adult, who lived and taught and died. Someone who rose from death itself.
I don’t know why. I do know that Reality shows itself as personal and relational. The creative principle that brings us into existence shows itself not to be “It”, but “He/She/They”—a Palestinian Jewish man who lived 20 centuries ago. Not to lift up maleness, but to establish in our hearts and minds that God is Person and personal, that God relates and desires relationship, that God is love and loves us beyond human understanding.
My essential weakness and problems with life feel big, then Reality himself breaks in and I see light and truth, I sense in some way God, “True God of True God, Light of Light Eternal.” What does my weakness matter? It doesn’t. My sense of failure melts in the awareness of God’s love and strength and glory.
One of the first readings, a sermon from Pope St. Leo the Great, stated: “For there is no proper place for sadness, when we keep the birthday of the Life, which destroys the fear of mortality and brings to us the joy of promised eternity.”
At one level we rebel against these words. What of those who are lonely, hurting, in despair? Do these words dismiss them too easily? No. Rather these words set our pain and weakness and the despair that nips at our heels in their proper context. Reality himself enters, and Light and Truth break in. The truth that God is Love, and that God draws each one of us into relationship with the baby born this day, and thus into proper relationship with each other.
We may be weak and hurting; but we are not trapped. Life is here!