Roberto de Mattei
Christmas is not only a Western cultural tradition or a simple commemoration, dear to Christians of a historical fact that happened in Palestine 2015 years ago. Christmas is the moment in which the Redeemer of humanity presents Himself to us in a crib, asking us to adore Him as King and Lord of the universe. The Nativity, under this aspect, is one of the central mysteries of our faith, the door that permits us to enter into all the mysteries of Christ. Pope Leo the Great (440-461) writes: “He Who was invisible in His Nature made Himself visible in ours. The Incomprehensible wanted to be understood: He Who is before time, began to be in time; the Lord of the Universe, veiling His Majesty, received the form of a servant”. (Sermo in Nativitate Domini, II, § 2).
The manifestation in history of the Incarnate Word was also the hour of the greatest jubilation by the Angels. From the instant of their creation, at the dawn of the universe, they knew that God would have become man and they had adored Him, resplendent within the Most Holy Trinity. This Revelation had immediately separated the faithful angels and the rebels, heaven and earth, the children of light and those of the darkness. Finally the moment arrived at Bethlehem for the Angels to prostrate themselves before the Divine Infant, the cause and means of their perseverance, as Father Faber writes. The harmonies of the Gloria in excelsis inundated Heaven and earth, but were heard that night only by souls who lived in detachment from the world and in the love of God. Among these were the Shepherds of Bethlehem. They didn’t belong to the world of the rich and powerful, but in the solitude and the night vigils keeping their flocks, they had conserved the faith of Israel. They were simple men, open to the supernatural, and were not astonished by the Angel’s apparition, who, whilst shining a celestial light on them, said: “For behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, that shall be to all the people: For, this day, is born to you a Saviour. Who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David. And this shall be a sign unto you. You shall find the infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger.” (Luke 2, 11-12).
The Shepherds docilely followed the Angel’s indications and were led right to the Cave where they found The Baby in the manger, with Mary and St. Joseph: «Invenerunt Mariam, et Joseph et Infantem positum in Praesepio» (Luke 2, 16). They had the grace of being the first, after Mary and Joseph, to offer on earth, an external act of adoration to The Baby of Bethlehem. Adoring Him, they understood that in His apparent fragility, He was the promised Messiah, the King of the Universe. Christmas is the first affirmation of the Regality of Christ and the manger is his throne. The manger was also the treasure chest of Christian Civilization which then too was born and the Shepherds were its first prophets. This Civilization’s program was concentrated in the words that a myriad of Angels proclaimed that night: “ Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace to men of good will” (Luke 2, 14).
With immense joy, the Shepherds went all over the place, into fields and mountains, announcing the glad news. «Omnes qui audierunt mirati sunt” (Luke 2, 18), everyone marveled [at this news], but not all of them set out for the cave in Bethlehem. Many were immersed in their occupations and renounced the effort that would have changed their lives, in time and eternity. Many others would pass in front of the Cave those days, and perhaps out of curiosity they peered into it, but they didn’t understand or didn’t want to understand the wonder of the event.
Nonetheless, the Regality of The Baby Jesus was recognized by some of the wisest men of that time. The Magi, Kings of the Orient, were men whose gaze had been absorbed in celestial things, when in the Heavens, a star appeared to them. The star was for the Magi what the Angel had been for the Shepherds: the voice of God that says: «Ego sum stella splendida et matutina» (Apoc. 22, 16). Also the Magi Kings, like the Shepherds, corresponded perfectly to the Divine urging. They were not the only ones to see the star, and perhaps they weren’t the only ones to understand its significance, but they were the only ones to set off towards the West. Others perhaps understood, but they didn’t want to leave their Country, their homes and their affairs.
The Shepherds were there nearby Bethlehem, the Magi faraway, but a principle applies to both: those who seek God with purity of heart are never abandoned. The Shepherds and Magi bore gifts, of different value, but both offered the greatest gifts they had. They gave to the Holy Child, their eyes, their ears, their mouths, their hearts, their entire life; in a word, they consecrated their bodies and souls to Incarnate Wisdom, and they did so through the hands of Mary and Joseph, in the presence of the entire Heavenly Court. In this they imitated perfect submission to the Will of God of the Child Jesus, Who from God-Word, annihilated Himself in the form of a servant to the Divine Will, and then allowed Himself to be led through all the phases, up to His death on the Cross and glory: He didn’t choose His phases, but allowed Himself to be led, moment by moment through the inspiration of Grace - as a mystic of the XVII century wrote (Jean-Baptiste Sainte-Jure, Vita di Gaston de Renty, (The Life of Gaston de Renty) tr. it., Glossa, Milan 2007, p. 254).
Devotion to the Holy Child is a devotion in which one experiences a radical abandonment to Divine Providence, since that Child wrapped in swaddling clothes is a Man-God, Who annihilated His will in order to do His Father’s, Who is in Heaven, and He would do this by submitting Himself to two sublime creatures - to Him submitted: The Most Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph.
Holy Christmas is the day of extreme abandonment to Divine Providence, but also of immense trust in the mysterious plans of God. It is the day, St. Leo the Great writes again, in which “The Son of God came to destroy the work of the devil (1 John, 3, 8) , the day in which He united Himself to us and we united ourselves to Him, until the lowering of God towards humanity raises men to God” (In Sermo in Nativitate Domini, VII, § 2). In this same sermon, St. Leo denounces the scandal of those in his time, who, as they were going up the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica, mixed the prayers of the Church with invocations directed to the stars and nature: “May the faithful – he writes – reject this condemnable and perverse habit, may the honour due to God alone be not mixed with the rites of those who adore creatures. Holy Scripture declares: You shall worship the Lord your God and only Him shall you serve.”
How can we not fail to see the relevance of these words, while neo-pagan light-displays are being projected on the façade of St. Peter’s Basilica and the pantheistic cult of Nature is celebrated? In these dark hours, may faithful Catholics continue to have the same trust that the Shepherds and Magi had, may they approach the Crib to contemplate Jesus. Christmas is coming, the darkness in which the world is immersed will be dissipated, and the enemies of God tremble, as they know the hour of defeat for them is near. For this they hate Holy Christmas and for this we, with trusting gaze, contemplate the Holy Child Who is born and ask Him to illuminate our minds in darkness , to warm up our hearts in coldness and to fortify our lost consciences in the night of our times.
Child Jesus, may your Kingdom come!
[Translation: Contributor Francesca Romana]