By Father Stephen Freeman
The feast of the Nativity of Our Lord, God and Savior, Jesus Christ, draws near and the anxiety of the world increases. There are those who worry that the feast is surrounded by too much commercialism. Others fear that religion will once again invade their safely guarded secular spaces. These are only the most vocalized anxieties – busyness consumes our lives. I think of the words from the Dr. Seuss character, the Grinch, “I must stop Christmas from coming!”
Many Christians see Christmas as something bound in history – it is the birth of Christ into this world – and is marked like other historical events. Some care is given to the exact year (some say 4 B.C., some other dates). Others will concern themselves with calculating what it was that the Wise Men say (star, comet, etc.?). All in all, modern Christians, bound by the historical model, find themselves on the defensive. For they are celebrating a historical event and find it assaulted by all the weapons wielded by those who wage war on Christian history. They must stop Christmas from coming.
But Christmas belongs to another category of event. It is certainly historical: Christ was born into this world. But the fact of His birth into the world does not properly or completely describe His birth into this world. For the birth of Christ cannot be placed into the general category of “births.” I was born into this world, on an unremarkable day in November of 1953. My death will also be an unremarkable day. But the birth of Christ into this world is the entrance of the Alpha and the Omega, the entrance of God into the midst of the human race. Though it came by a birth, it made birth into a wholly different category.
We can describe His birth in “biological” terms – He was born of a virgin – and in His birth no damage was done to her. His birth did not cause harm to the Virgin. He was born and she remained a virgin.
But we can also describe His birth in terms of time. What does it mean that the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, were born in time? Just as the Virgin endured no damage from the birth of Christ, so time and space endured no damage from the entrance of the timeless One – and yet the timeless One has entered into our history – and history cannot remain the same.
The consequence of Christ’s entrance into history is described by St. Paul:
Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: That in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him (Ephesians 1:9-10).
What has occurred in the birth of Christ, is more than historical event. It is an entrance of the very End (and Beginning) of all things into that which we know as space and time. As such, space and time have been altered. The Nativity of Christ belongs to that category of event into which “all things are being gathered together in one in Christ….”
There is an inexorable character to this entrance of Christ into history. History, having admitted the entrance of One who transcends both space and time, is no longer defined by space and time. History is defined by the timeless One who has entered.
Despite all the work of Grinches, Christmas cannot be stopped. No matter how the world may improperly commercialize the event or Churches fail to properly acknowledge it, Christmas is a timeless event, an entrance into our world of the Alpha and Omega. As such, it is inexorable. There is nothing we can do to prevent its entrance and nothing we can do to change its reality. Christ has entered into our world, with the purpose of gathering all things into Himself. That purpose cannot be changed or altered.
A timeless event cannot be celebrated in the same fashion as a merely historical event. As timeless, it cannot be confined to history, even though it has a historical aspect. Thus Christmas is as present now as it was 2,000 years ago. King Herod perceived the birth of the Christ-Child as a threat to his kingdom. That Child remains a threat to every kingdom – for “the kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and His Christ.”
“Peace on earth, good will towards men,” is not a slogan nor a measure of the success of the season. It is a description of the reality that entered the world in the person of Christ. He is Peace on earth. His very presence is God’s good will towards men. The world is being gathered together in one – into God’s peace and goodwill. It is not always a gathering that is greeted with joy – and this is condemnation – “that Light has come into the world and men preferred darkness to the Light.”
“Christmas time” is more than a season of the year – it is God’s work of redeeming all time – of making the time of this world into the timelessness of the age to come.
It’s Christmas time. God is with us.
~Father Stephen Freeman, Glory to God for All Things, “Christmas Time,” https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2010/12/24/christmas-time/.