CHRISTMAS – 2014
“And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” Jn. 1, 13
“… the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for then in the inn.” Lk, 2, 5
Some 2000 years ago, a baby was born.
What’s amazing is that this baby could not have chosen a more remote, insignificant, impoverished place to “dwell among us” than Bethlehem of Judea, a backwater nothing of a town. He could not have surrounded himself with a more motley crew: shepherds noted for being dangerous outsiders, and “pagan magicians” who today we call magi. He could not have found a more ramshackle surrounding than a manger amidst the animals.
And yet this same child has been given the most lofty and the most radical of titles: Lord of the universe, Savior of the world, Prince of Peace – titles that only the emperor Caesar Augustus was allowed to claim. The writer of the gospel of John describes him as “the glory of the Father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”
The day of his birth has since been honored as Christmas – a day that changed history; a day that initially defied the mighty Roman empire; a day that told the most marginal of people: “Good News, a rescuer has arrived on the scene;” and a day that challenges each of us in the most personal of ways – right now.
What Christmas still dares each of us to do is to make room in our hearts, to carve out a space in our lives. It challenges us to be like this child: vulnerable, powerless, open to God’s infinite grace. It unseals our eyes so that we can see the need for shelter in all people, the need for loving care of the most destitute, the need for being there with those oppressed by loneliness and other heartaches.
Ultimately, what Christmas stands for, though, is a cry for peace and reconciliation, and an end to war and interminable conflict.
One of the best examples of this is the time when Christmas stopped a war.
It happened on December 24, 1914. The Germans were fighting a horrifyingly brutal trench offensive against the English in the “war to end all wars.” That winter night the Germans began lighting up their Christmas trees. Then they began singing Christmas songs, like Stille Nacht, Silent Night. The English joined them in song. And, as one writer put it afterwards, “Peace permeated the land as ‘in two tongues one song filled up that sky.’”
John McCuthceon’s haunting ballad, which can be heard in full on YouTube, beautifully captures the miracle of that moment. Here are just a few snippets:
Soon one by one on either side walked into No Man’s Land
With neither gun nor bayonet we met there hand to hand
We traded chocolates, cigarettes, and photographs from home
These sons and fathers far away from families of their own
‘Twas Christmas in the trenches where the frost, so bitter hung
The frozen fields of France were warmed as songs of peace were sung
For the walls they’d kept between us to exact the work of war
Had been crumbled and were gone forevermore.
Some have suggested that, in its entirety, this is the most moving Christmas song they have ever heard.
Christmas created a miracle in that terrible war. The truce between the soldiers on either side went on for days. They simply refused to go back to killing. Eventually, their leaders had to replace the troops to get the war going again.
That same feast of Christmas that worked that astonishing wonder is back with us. And it asks of us some questions:
What miracle, what dream, what wonder will you allow this Christmas to create in your lives? What “work of war” that you’re involved in will it bring to an end? What peace will it initiate?
Or, as the song puts it, what “walls (we’d) kept between us to exact the work of war had been crumbled and were gone forevermore?”
Perhaps, today as we present ourselves to the Christ Child of so long ago, the answers to these questions will best be determined by what kind of manger will be created in our hearts. Hopefully, it will be one that will bring us to our knees, and encourage each of us to join in with the angels singing: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace.”
Ted Wolgamot, Psy.D.