They went with haste and found… the child lying in the manger (Luke 1:52).
My monthly column in Restoration has taken, these past few months, a somewhat political cast, driven by the uncertain and volatile times in which we are living.
That is all well and good, or at least my editor, Paulette Curran, thinks so. After all, we do not live in a bubble here in Madonna House, and the woes and anguish of the world are our woes and anguish, too.
There comes a time, though, when all politics comes to an end. A time when it is unseemly to allow our eyes to stay fixed on the city of man with all its turmoil, inappropriate to remain focussed on the ever-shifting sands of the political and social order with all its contemporary perils.
And that time is Christmas. Here, we leave the world behind, at least for a spell, at least for a brief moment.
Here, we enter the stable at Bethlehem. Here we find that child lying in that manger, a child like no other, a manger like no other. Here, we fall down and worship, adoring the little baby who is God entering into time and space and history to transform it from within.
Of course, Christmas itself came surrounded by political events fraught with risk. A census is a political act, an exercise of raw imperial power. It caused great hardship to many, the Holy Family among them. It was a great violation of basic civil rights of freedom of movement.
The child is born to be a king of Israel, and his birth would evoke an even rawer act of political power—the massacre of the innocents.
The baby would begin his life as a refugee carried in the arms of his mother to a foreign land.
The shepherds who had come to find and adore were among the poor of Israel, a marginalized and despised caste.
All around the events of Christmas, the story so familiar and beloved to us all, were whirling winds of political storms. And indeed, Christ came into the world not to serenely float above those storms, but to be a victim of them, brutally executed by the state in yet another act of raw power, and triumph over them by the power of God.
And yet … here it is Christmas. Here on this night, “all is calm, all is bright.” But that calm and that brightness are not just for a few hours on December 25.
The stable is always with us, all times of year, and there is forever and always a call to leave behind the storms, the shifting sands, the controversies and concerns of the day, the troubles of our times. Always and forever, the call is there to enter in, to find the child, to fall on our faces before him (the literal meaning of the biblical word “worship”).
One of my favorite Christmas songs is a lesser known one, “How Far is it to Bethlehem?” by Frances Chesterton. It depicts children traveling to Bethlehem (possible to do as it is “not very far”), to gaze on the Christ child.
They ask if they can “see the little Child? Is He within? If we lift the wooden latch, may we go in?”
It is a tender gentle song, but it is the last lines that capture what I’m trying to say in this article: “God in his mother’s arms, babe in the byre. Sleep, as they sleep who find, their heart’s desire.”
There we are. That’s what Christmas is—finding our heart’s desire. Of course, most of us don’t even know that’s what it is, until we find the child lying in the manger.
God is with us; we are not alone; sin, evil, and death do not get the last word; love is stronger. All of which becomes not nice sentiments but living reality in Bethlehem, and Bethlehem is everywhere to be found, if our hearts become childlike enough to recognize it.
So, dear reader, in this my final article of the year 2020, a year unlike any other I have lived in my time on the planet, this is my wish for you.
That you can lay down your adult care-worn hearts on the straw of the stable, that you can let go, for a span of time, of your worries and anxieties. That you can set to the side, firmly, all the fuss and bother of the news media, all the political hurly burly that never stops moving and yet somehow never seems to go anywhere. That for a little span of time, this Christmas, you can sleep as one who has his heart’s desire.
Because we have, you know. Christ is born, Christ is alive, Christ is here, Christ is now. Joy to the world, now and forever. Come let us adore Him.