The Beauty Oof Christmas
One of the reasons that Christmas captivates our imagination like no other season of the year is because Christmas is a time when our minds and hearts are surrounded by beauty.
When our senses apprehend something beautiful, our soul is stimulated and delighted, because we come into contact with the transcendent and are dazzled by the spark of the divine. Our soul is lifted up powerfully to God and to the things of Heaven.
Think of the music of the Christmas season. The glorious hymns majestically announcing the Saviour's birth delight our ear as we soar with them to God. The familiar carols of the season remind us of the love we've shared with our families and friends in past Christmases, and bring us a renewed sense of joy for the coming year.
Christmas is the season in which we are surrounded by light. Think of the gentle radiance of tiny white lights beneath new-fallen snow, of the stately brightness of candles in our windows, of the warm glow of the lights on the Christmas tree. They all remind us of the birth of the Light of the World, Jesus Christ.
The Christmas tree fills the house with its clean, fresh aroma, as all creation waits and rejoices in the birth of the Babe of Bethlehem. In church, at Christmas Mass, the rich, sweet incense tells of the majesty of the newborn King and reminds us of the gift of frankincense offered by the Magi who had seen His star in the East.
And what would our celebration of Christmas be without the food of the season? The wonderful smells we look forward to all year greet us in the kitchen as we near the twenty-fifth of December. One of the highlights of the whole celebration of the feast of Christmas is precisely that: the dinner with our family on Christmas Day. Sharing a meal with those we love on Christmas day makes perfect sense, since we are celebrating the Incarnation of the Son of God.
Beauty surrounds us on all sides, captivating our minds and imaginations, and drawing us up into the mystery and joy of the birth of Christ, as the whole world seems to take on a festive air for a few wonderful weeks.
But we must remember that the real beauty is not here. The real beauty of Christmas is in Bethlehem, on that cold winter's night some two thousand years ago.
Think of it for a moment. Mary, a young girl of perhaps fifteen, has come to Bethlehem with her husband, Joseph, to register for a census mandated by Caesar Augustus. Caesar's decree could not come at a worse time. Mary, who was told by an angel that she would give birth to the Son of God, was nearing the time of her confinement, as Scripture says, and it would have been much easier to bear her Child in the comfort of her home. But she, in obedience, made the difficult journey to the City of David with her husband, so that Isaiah's prophecy about her Son could be fulfilled.
When they arrived, following what surely was a difficult journey, there was no room for them in the inn. It must have been unbelievable for the young couple. They somehow knew that God's miraculous plan for the salvation was about to unfold, and yet there was no room for them in the inn. But they trusted in God nonetheless.
Our Lord was to come into the world not in a royal palace or attended by great ceremony, but in a small barn with no witnesses but the animals whose wooden feeding trough served as the first throne from which reigned the King of Kings. Some thirty-three years later, this King would also reign from another unlikely wooden throne: the Cross. The wood of the manger is, after all, the wood of the Cross. "All men are born to live," said Archbishop Fulton Sheen, "One man was born to die." It all seems so inappropriate, so unbefitting the Prince of Peace, that he should be born into poverty and killed like a common criminal. Yet this is how, in the design of Divine Providence, the world would be saved, and precisely herein lies the humility of God.
And that is where the real beauty is. The Eternal Word of the Father emptied Himself of the glory of Heaven to become a man, so that man might become like God. Our human minds, even if raised to the heights of contemplation, can only begin to dimly comprehend the profundity and the wonder of it all. It is the greatest miracle the world has ever known. It is beauty itself.
The Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman, a 19th century English Churchman and scholar of the highest order, once spoke the following words to his congregation on Christmas morning, and this is my wish for all of us this year: "May each Christmas, as it comes, find us more and more like Him, who as at this time became a little child for our sake, more simple-minded, more humble, more holy, more affectionate, more resigned, more happy, more full of God." And, I dare to add, more caught up in the beauty of the birth of Mary's Son.
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