Tag Archives: Christmas

Peering into the Mystery of the Incarnation


The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty Savior; He will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love. He will sing joyfully because of you, as one sings at festivals. (Zeph. 3: 14-18a)

I find myself at this time of year, with this feast, what does it mean that God has entered into my very circumstance. At leach of the Masses I genuflected at the part where the Incarnation was professed and wondered how at this moment there is a keen recognition of what the difference Jesus makes in world, among friends and enemies, indeed, all of life. A friend of mine said that Christmas reminds the baptized Christian that the Incarnation provides us the opportunity to know that God looks like us (but doesn’t act like us); God know the very circumstance of living. I spent so much time at the Christmas Masses wondering quietly —and aloud— about the fact of God’s gaze upon us through the Birth of His Son, Jesus.  Asking myself, how is that God loves me so much that he peers into my existence in 2014? But, it is also how I peer into what God has so wonderfully done…

I think it is a true statement to say that Christmas is, more than any Christian celebration, a way to know that God is really in our midst. (Pascha has its own theological experience and data!) As my friend also said, “God’s involvement in our lives as the Word made Flesh, as Christ the Lord, as a real human being means that there is nothing in our lives that God cannot understand from personal experience.”

This sermon of the great Saint Augustine of Hippo helps me to consider anew what I profess to believe and to sharpen witness. Perhaps your meditation today and during the Octave will benefit from this sermon:

My mouth shall speak the praise of the Lord…by whom all things were made and who was made [flesh] amid all the works of His hands; who is the Manifestor of His Father, the Creator of His Mother; Son of God born of the Father without a mother, Son of Man born of a mother without a father; the great Day of the angels, small in the day of men; the Word as God existing before all time, the Word as flesh existing only for an allotted time; the Creator of the sun created under the light of the sun; ordering all ages from the bosom of His Father, from the womb of His Mother consecrating this day; remaining there, yet proceeding hither; Maker of heaven and earth brought forth on this earth overshadowed by the heavens; unspeakably wise, wisely speechless; filling the whole world, lying in a manger; guiding the stars, a nursling at the breast; though insignificant in the form of man, so great in the form of God that His greatness was not lessened by His insignificance nor was His smallness crushed by His might. When He assumed human form He did not abandon His divine operations… When clothed in the weakness of our flesh He was received, not imprisoned, in the Virgin’s womb so that without the Food of Wisdom being withdrawn from the angels we might taste how sweet is the Lord.

Why do we marvel at these conflicting powers of the Word of God when the discourse which I utter is apprehended so freely by the senses that the hearer receives it, yet does not confine it? If it were not received, it would give no instruction; if it were confined, it would not reach others. In spite of the fact that this discourse is divided into words and syllables…you all hear the whole discourse and each individual takes in the whole. While speaking, I do not fear that one listener may, by hearing me, grasp the whole discourse so that his neighbor can get nothing of it…Nor is this hearing accomplished at successive periods of time so that, after the dis- course which is being delivered has come to you first, it leaves you so that it may go to another person. No, it comes to all at the same time and the whole discourse is apprehended by each individual…How much more readily, then, would the Word of God, through whom all things were made and who, remaining in Himself, renews all things, who is neither confined by places nor restrained by time, neither changed by long or short intervals of time, neither adorned by speech nor terminated by silence, be able to make fertile the womb of His Mother when He assumed human flesh, yet not leave the bosom of His Father; to make His way hither for human eyes to gaze upon Him, and still to enlighten angelic minds; to come down to this earth while rul- ing the heavens; to become Man here while creating men there?

Let no one believe, then, that the Son of God was changed into the Son of Man; rather, let us believe that, with the perfect preservation of His divine nature and the perfect assumption of human nature, He, remaining the Son of God, became also the Son of Man. For the fact that the Scriptures say ‘The Word was God’ and ‘The Word was made flesh’ (Jn 1.1,14) does not mean that the Word became flesh in such a way as to cease to be God since, because the Word was made flesh, in that same flesh Emmanuel ‘God with us’ was born. …the word which we form within us becomes an utterance when we bring it forth from our mouth: the word is not changed into the utterance, but the voice by which it comes forth is taken on while the inner word remains un-changed; what is thought remains within, what is heard sounds forth. Nevertheless, the same thing is expressed in sound which had previously been expressed in silence…when the word becomes an utterance, it is not changed into this utterance, but remains in the light of the mind; having taken on the voice of the flesh, it reaches the listener without leaving the thinker…Both that which is considered in the mind, however, and that which sounds forth in speech are variable and diverse; the thought will not remain when you have forgotten it, nor will the utterance remain when you are silent. But the Word of the Lord remains forever and remains unchanged.

From Sermon 187: The Feast of the Nativity

God’s body made flesh

AdorationPope Saint Leo the Great draws our attention to what is essential to our august liturgical season of adoration by speaking of the body:

God’s Son did not disdain to become a baby. Although with the passing of the years he moved from infancy to maturity, and although with the triumph of his passion and resurrection all the actions of humility which he undertook for us were finished, still today’s festival renews for us the holy childhood of Jesus born of the Virgin Mary. In adoring the birth of our Saviour, we find we are celebrating the commencement of our own life, for the birth of Christ is the source of life for Christian folk, and the birthday of the Head is the birthday of the body.

[Adoration of the Shepherd, Carl Maratta (c.1690)]

Ronald Knox’s “A Letter About Christmas”

Ronald Knox c 1928

The famed English priest Monsignor Ronald A. Knox wrote a letter about Christmas published in The Tablet in 1937 (this is a British publication). For our purposes here, it is good to consider the theological points the Knox makes about the feast we are living in these days.

Dear When I saw you yesterday, you told me that you did not see any reason why you should have your house turned upside down just because it was Christmas. I have been thinking of your remark ever since, and the more I think of it, the less sense I can find in it. What is Christmas, from start to finish, but things being turned upside down?

The winter solstice, after all—I don’t seem to be able to find a calendar, but I know it happens about now—is just the reversing of a process. The days, instead of getting shorter and shorter till we fall into a perpetual night (and what else does our civilization deserve?) begin to lengthen out again; the hour-glass tips up, as it were, and our credits begin to balance our debits. The heathen obviously noticed that, and decided to hold their Saturnalia about then; was it on the fifteenth? Anyhow, not badly out. The Saturnalia, because Saturn was the god of the golden age, before the nasty, jerry-balt, mass-produced Jove-civilization began: so they liked to think that if the year could turn back in its tracks, there was no reason why history should not do the same; why should not history have its solstices? In that wistful desire for topsy-turvydom, they allowed their slaves to have a holiday, and say exactly what they liked to their masters. I wonder how you would like that? How you would take it if the housemaid started to draw the line at your daughter having followers? Magnus ab integro saeclorum nascitur ordo—Virgil caught the spirit of the solstice idea, and wrote his Messianic eclogue. I am not going to bother about what he meant by it; but you can hardly deny that he made some good shots.

Don’t start arguing about whether Christmas happened. What we are talking about is a mood, and the world remembers the mood, even when it has become doubtful about the story; it would like Christmas to have happened, whether it really happened or not. The Maid-Mother—we could not have invented anything more gracious than that part of the story, even if it had been necessary for us to invent. Jam, edit et Virgo, redeunt Saturnia regna; how is the golden age to return to us, except by some upheaval of nature, the appearance of some uncaused Cause to reverse the pounding of the monotonous wheels which hurry us relentlessly in the same direction? What better answer to Caesar Augustus’ population-bill, than the Child who had to be enrolled, for all there was no father that could be named for him?

That message, reasonably enough, has gone to the head of Christendom ever since ; and we find no better way of doing honour to Christmas than by turning things upside down. Everything went wrong from the first; all the best places going to the wrong people, as it were ; the ox and the ass nearest to the cradle, and the shepherds getting in ahead of the Kings; the Kings having to ask their way, and asking it of the people who never found it; the inn having no room, so that it was left for a stable to contain Him whom the worlds could not contain—all the arrogant topsy-turvydom, in fact, of the Christmas Crib. How it puzzled the Wise Men when they set out to make a calculation in astrology, to discover what child the strange star was going to influence, and found, at the end of their search that it was the Child who influenced the star.

All the modern paraphernalia of Christmas, presents, trees, crackers, turkey, yule-logs, waits and the rest of it, has become over-conventionalized, I grant you, and much overlaid with affectation, big-business, and the cult of the Tudor tea-room. But Christmas retains, under all its trappings, its essential note of unexpectedness. Just when you are expecting burglars to prowl about other people’s houses in disguise and take things away, you instead, the householder, are expected to disguise yourself and prowl about your own house, putting things there. Instead of waking up to find ladders in her stockings, your small daughter wakes up to find that the stocking itself has become a ladder, for Santa Claus to come down the chimney. Just when the boughs should be at their barest, one tree manages to reverse the whole process, miraturque novas frondes et non sua poma, burgeons into leaves of flame and fruits of glittering glass. The pudding which has meant so much more trouble than all the puddings of the year comes to table full of careless oversights, thimbles and sixpences which the most myopic of cooks could hardly have left there by mistake. Everywhere and in all ages head-dress has been the sign of human dignity ; can still be a matter of national importance, or why must Kemal be at pains to replace the fez by the bowler hat?—but not at Christmas; at Christmas it is expected of the solemnest uncle that he should dress up like a fool, and the angels are too discreet to smile at it. You should even admit in the abstract (though it is not so easy to take the right line when you actually come in contact with them) the propriety of those elaborate practical jokes which the shops sell, booby-traps that squirt water at you unexpectedly or black your face when you are not looking ; they all keep up the atmosphere of unexpectedness. Of course your house has got to be turned upside-down if it is to be a fitting symbol of the world turned upside down; and nothing less will do at Christmas.

And if you still complain, remember that the Church, whose dignity is (if you will excuse my mentioning it) much more important than yours, turns things upside down herself in a determined effort to do something about Christmas. Or rather, she has preserved one solitary anachronism in her calendar, to make us all feel properly uncomfortable, not knowing whether we are standing on our heads or our heels—I mean the Midnight Mass. For there is a gracious influence about night as a time of prayer—darkness, and light in darkness, and the day’s memories still warm, not yet severed from us by any interval of sleep. All that is what you cannot get at Mass; for Mass goes with another set of impressions, the cleanness and coldness of early morning, or the prosaic glare of the full sunlight. But on this one day in the year, for a treat, the Church will allow us to have it both ways, to combine the comfortable, almost guilty magic of darkness with the presence of the daily miracle. Supreme instance of topsy-turvydom, to go to a twelve o’clock Mass at twelve midnight!

All this probably won’t impress you; but it will teach you to be more careful what you say. I don’t think it does much good wishing a person like you a happy or a merry Christmas ; but I am doing it, if only to annoy you.

Yours always,


The Tablet, p. 6
December 25 1937

Hope springs from a stable of Bethlehem

Francis kisses baby JesusTo you, dear brothers and sisters, gathered from throughout the world in this Square, and to all those from different countries who join us through the communications media, I offer my cordial best wishes for a merry Christmas!

On this day illumined by the Gospel hope which springs from the humble stable of Bethlehem, I invoke the Christmas gift of joy and peace upon all: upon children and the elderly, upon young people and families, the poor and the marginalized. May Jesus, who was born for us, console all those afflicted by illness and suffering; may he sustain those who devote themselves to serving our brothers and sisters who are most in need. Happy Christmas to all!

Pope Francis’ English message for Christmas 2013

Blessed Christmas

nativity JBackerSaint Leo the Great teaches, “Today, dearly beloved, our Savior is born: let us rejoice! Surely there is no place for mourning on the birthday of true Life itself, who has swallowed up mortality with all its fear, and brought us the joyful promise of life everlasting. No one is excluded from taking part in our jubilation. All have the same cause for gladness, for as our blessed Lord, slayer of sin and death, found none free from guilt, so has he come to set us all alike at liberty.

Let the saint exult, since he is soon to receive recompense; let the sinner give praise, since he is welcomed to forgiveness; let the unbeliever take courage, since he is called unto life. For in the fullness of time ordained by the inscrutable mystery of the divine decree, the Son of God clothed himself with the nature of that human race which he was to reconcile to its Maker. Thus would he vanquish the devil, the author of death, through that very nature which had once yielded him the victory.”

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT, follows the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, and is an Oblate of Saint Benedict, works as a monastery farmer and a keeper of honey bees. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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