In two millennia, we have not begun to plumb the depths of the mystery we know as Christmas.
Minds of colossal acumen have stumbled over the paradox; and hosts from every corner of the globe have found in it an otherworldly beauty. It continues to be celebrated in a thousand and one carols each December, and vilified by every rationalist under Heaven.
There are, of course, myriad possible responses to the miracle of the Incarnation. C.S. Lewis found in it the Myth made Fact; the Prophet Muhammad found it blasphemy; Richard Dawkins finds it risible. But the response I cannot fathom is apathy. The secularist—or, worse yet, the moral therapeutic Deist—who blithely ambles by a manger scene, thinking only of the glittering lights of the “holiday season,” or of the shopping for gifts yet to be done, is legion. But such apathy, such limp tolerance, such shallow benign banality, may well be the predominant sin of our desolate post-Christian West. We mock the sacred, and so cannot grasp anew the terrified joy that awe brings. We cannot see why the angel had to warn the shepherds not to fear, nor why the Magi were willing to risk Herod’s wrath for a glimpse of the infant Boy.
I contend that the Incarnation has indelibly imprinted the minds of all of us who dwell in the shadow of Christendom. Those of us who claim to follow that divine Baby would do well to strive to rework every thread of our thinking around the knowledge that the Mind that orders the cosmos wailed for His mother. There is a glorious comedy in this, a magnanimous ennobling of the simplest and most ordinary things. Henry V said that “He to-day that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,” but the King of Kings could, and did, make the vile his brethren.
The inestimable preciousness of every human being, every bearer of the sacred imago dei, thus must always weigh into our calculations. We also cannot forget what is easily forgotten: the small, the local, the old, the childish, the poor, the weak, all that grounds us in reality beyond ourselves. The peculiar, morbid, contemporary fascination with ephemeral youth cannot enter our moral vision. The appetite-fueled moral reasoning of pop culture must be recognized as the bankrupt lie it is. The fiction of the liberal is that we are autonomous, self-constructing, rational individuals—but the vulnerability of the Godhead reminds us of our own babyhood. Even at the height of physical vigor or mental dexterity, we owe ourselves to the families, communities, cultures, and nations that nourished us, and ultimately to God. We cannot see the rearing of children or the care of our parents as optional “lifestyle choices,” for God Himself became a child, and He provided for His mother even at the point of death.
But, the Liberated Modern Progressive will decry, this is archaic, backward, stifling, inhibiting. Awareness of the Incarnation, of the fleshly, the bodily, limits man. Where is the restless sense of limitless possibility that has wrought so many wonders? Does it not spring from rejecting the community, tradition, history, religion, and from voyaging onward, confident in human potential? I respond that this is wretched folly that misses the entire glory of the Incarnation. Chesterton once summarized, “The hands that had made the sun and stars were too small to reach the huge heads of the cattle.” Yes, there is limitation and smallness in this marvel. But there is also the freedom of love—for the God who is Love so constrained himself. Thus we are reminded that to be made in the divine image is to be made for love, to be made for giving of self. To know the Incarnate Love of the “Word made flesh” is to overflow in generous love of neighbor.
And love of neighbor must take the form of caring at the small and local level, the face-to-face meeting of enfleshed human souls. It cannot mean the monstrous liberal vision of statist manipulation designed to overcome the atomized selfishness of autonomous individuals.
The Incarnation, then, calls us to cast ourselves deeply into an endless well of bounteous reflections. It is warrant for wonder, and lends the luster of glory to the humblest circumstance or the least among us.