“When peaceful stillness compassed everything and the night in its swift course was half spent, your all-powerful word from heaven’s royal throne bounded […] And as he alighted…[…], he still reached to heaven, while he stood upon the earth” (Wisdom 18:14-16). What Child is this who spans the abyss between the earth and heaven? He is the incarnate Word of God and His divine nativity changes everything forever.
For believers, His arrival is a glorious gift; salvation has come. But for the ancient enemy of mankind, Christ’s arrival is his undoing. The Incarnation is the worst news for Satan and his cohorts. Thus, from the start, the Babe of Bethlehem is pursued for destruction. His disciples also are targeted. He is the Prince of Peace who is unwelcomed by those who revel in discord. For some believers Advent is experienced as a little Lent—a trial and test of faith. This is consistent with the challenges that arose even before His divine birth. One, holy, silent night in Bethlehem is a defining moment in salvation history and a decisive moment of us personally. Will we truly honor and serve Him as the Lord of our life? Will He reign in me?
Christmas is a most wonderful time of year and many people are full of joy and hope. Loving generosity often wins the day during the seasons of Advent and Christmas. It is my favorite time of year—I enjoy it all—from beautiful liturgies, nativity scenes, to gift-giving, cooking, socializing, tree trimming, and sightseeing the gorgeous decorations. Christmas music tugs at our heartstrings and Christmas cards with warm sentiments delight us. These can be reflections of the beauty of the Christ Child who stirs the human heart.
The secular culture, perpetuating the dictatorship of relativism, can be very seductive and some people fall away from the Christ in Christmas. Sadly, too many in our circle of family and friends now give as much weight to the scriptural story of the Nativity of Jesus Christ as to Miracle on 34th Street or A Christmas Carol. Pope Benedict XVI wrote about “negative tolerance” and in light of what he teaches we learn that such thinking impacts important conversations among family and friends.
A new intolerance is spreading, that is quite obvious. There are well-established standards of thinking that are supposed to be imposed on everyone. These are then announced in terms of so-called “negative tolerance.” For instance, when people say that for the sake of negative tolerance [i.e., “not offending anyone”] there must be no crucifix in public buildings with that we are basically experiencing the abolition of tolerance, for it means, after all, that religion, that the Christian faith is no longer allowed to express itself visibly. (Light of the World, 52-53, quoted in God’s Healing Mercy)
We live in complex times when bearing witness to faith in Jesus Christ causes repercussions that may be costly. Suddenly, simply saying grace before meals or “Merry Christmas” draws a correction because of “negative tolerance”. So what are we to do?
Compromising our Catholic identity is not an option. Better to be a fool for Christ, to bear witness to the truth with the tenderness of divine mercy. The Christ Child didn’t arrive on the scene and overwhelm the world with power and might. He drew people to His light by the tenderness of merciful love. Truth carries the weight of beauty that resonates in the human heart. Having encountered Christ’s love we hope that everyone will experience such tender mercy and we pray patiently.
Christ condescended to leave the throne of glory in heaven to become the little Babe of Bethlehem. He became vulnerable for the sake of love. He teaches the lesson of true love that is vulnerable to be rejected, scorned, ridiculed and ultimately abandoned and persecuted—even to death on a cross. Christ is the icon of merciful love that pours forth from a pierced heart. At Christmas gatherings, perhaps colleagues, friends and relatives will be condescending about our faith in God. We must have a well-trained tongue to “speak the truth in love” (cf. Eph. 4:15). We pray for wisdom and discernment to know what to say, when to say it, or when to keep silence and intercede quietly.
Christ strengthens us in all trials. “Negative tolerance” is a symptom of a faithless culture into which we interject faith by word and deed. The faithful will always keep Christmas holy, peaceful and joyful as a perpetual memorial to the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ—the greatest, only necessary gift.
St. Louis Marie de Montfort spoke of an age when God would raise up the greatest saints ever to stand against the world, the flesh and the devil. This Christmas Eve, at the start of the Jubilee of Mercy, in the silence of this holy night, perhaps we will listen and hear the Incarnate Word, the Christ Child, sending us forth onto the frontlines of the “good fight” renewed to proclaim the triumph of divine mercy.
St. Padre Pio’s Christmas Reflection
O Christians, so plentiful are the lessons that shine forth from the grotto of Bethlehem! Oh how our hearts should be on fire with love for the one who with such tenderness was made flesh for our sakes! Oh how we should burn with desire to lead the whole world to this lowly cave, refuge of the King of kings, greater than any worldly palace, because it is the throne and dwelling place of God! Let us ask this Divine child to clothe us with humility, because only by means of this virtue can we taste the fullness of this mystery of Divine tenderness.
Glittering were the palaces of the proud Hebrews. Yet, the light of the world did not appear in one of them. Ostentatious with worldly grandeur, swimming in gold and in delights, were the great ones of the Hebrew nation; filled with vain knowledge and pride were the priests of the sanctuary. In opposition to the true meaning of Divine revelation, they awaited an officious savoir, who would come into the world with human renown and power.
But God, always ready to confound the wisdom of the world, shatters their plans. Contrary to the expectations of those lacking in Divine wisdom, he appears among us in the greatest abjection, renouncing even birth in St. Joseph’s humble home, denying himself a modest abode among relatives and friends in a city of Palestine. Refused lodging among men, he seeks refuge and comfort among mere animals, choosing their habitation as the place of his birth, allowing their breath to give warmth to his tender body. He permits simple and rustic shepherds to be the first to pay their respects to him, after he himself informed them, by means of his angels, of the wonderful mystery.
Oh wisdom and power of God, we are constrained to exclaim how incomprehensible are your judgments and unsearchable your ways! Poverty, humility, abjection, contempt, all surround the Word made flesh. But we, out of the darkness that envelops the incarnate Word, understand one thing, hear one voice, perceive one sublime truth: you have done everything out of love, you invite us to nothing else but love, speak of nothing except love, give us naught except proofs of love.
The heavenly babe suffers and cries in the crib so that for us suffering would be sweet, meritorious and accepted. He deprives himself of everything, in order that we may learn from him the renunciation of worldly goods and comforts. He is satisfied with humble and poor adorers, to encourage us to love poverty, and to prefer the company of the little and simple rather than the great ones of the world.
This celestial child, all meekness and sweetness, wishes to impress in our hearts by his example these sublime virtues, so that from a world that is torn and devastated, an era of peace and love may spring forth. Even from the moment of his birth he reveals to us our mission, which is to scorn that which the world loves and seeks.
Oh let us prostrate ourselves before the manger; …let us offer him all our hearts without reserve. Let us promise to follow the precepts which come to us from the grotto of Bethlehem, which teach us that everything here below is vanity of vanities, nothing but vanity.
(Padre Pio, Letters, San Giovanni Rotundo, Italy)
Editor’s note: Excerpts from God’s Healing Mercy are included in this article.