There is beauty and wonder in the season leading up to the Nativity, and a hushed reverence thereafter. We are called to embrace the God of True Light, who entered our world of sin and darkness. Many great works of art have tried to capture this idea with a Christ-child who irradiates the faces of the awed visitors surrounding his crib, and how gloriously accurate are those touching scenes.
This being said, unfortunately there is a two-fold temptation to add to that beauty in ways that actually diminish the reason for the Incarnation. Even among those who stop to recollect themselves amidst the shopping frenzy and social whirl that fill the holidays, we can bring up images that — while beautiful — may distort the real condescension of God. Any semblances of Mary and Joseph travelling on a beautiful starlit night, the Babe in fresh straw, or the fluffy sheep at his side might obscure the darkness he came to illuminate. Surely, despite the occasional glimpses of the shepherds’ dirty feet, the humility of the stable and the hard-heartedness of the innkeepers who were unmoved by Mary’s condition, we often fall prey to a postcard charm that blankets the saga.
This may be necessary for children, who are invited to draw near the manger to discover the God who seeks them, but as we mature we must read between the lines of the narrative, and remember the dankness of the little cell, the layer of anxiety outside, and the real temptation to fret when plans are disturbed. Mary and Joseph hung by threads, and were strengthened every step of the way by sheer grace. A lesson for us all.
Furthermore, we must ponder these same holidays viewed from hospice and hovel — and amidst horrors where there isn’t the slightest hope of Norman Rockwell setting up an easel. Those trapped in disease-ravaged camps, violent streets and addiction-raked chaos all seek the light, and are fitting backdrops to any creche we can imagine.
The second temptation is to gather for the feast, to assemble our hearths, and to lift the season to a pinnacle of beauty — and to airbrush God from it completely! Any festive scene that is satisfied to rejoice in our rejoicing must be discouraged. It is true that in most sanitized public settings, we must tiptoe around Jesus, sin and redemption. Moreover, the secular climate around us often reduces the entire holiday to sentiments of family, generosity, and cheer — but what do any of these mean without God? Without recognizing our need for redemption, we lose the real meaning behind the Holy Family’s difficulties, and we tend to shrink from the Passion, which was the culmination of their journey.
When we reduce Christianity to a morality tale, casting Jesus as one more enlightened guru who walked the walk, we’ve lost the thread. The real beauty of the season is that the Author of beauty leapt down from heaven into a dingy world, that he smiled his divine smile on fallen mankind, and that he firmly trod the path that led to our salvation along dusty roads, amidst the unlovely and unkempt.
Just as “in his light we see light” (Psalm 36:9), we can rightly say that without his truth our beauty hangs limp, our songs fall flat, and our festivities ring hollow. How to evangelize this reality in a world that holds all opinions equal is a mighty challenge, but just be aware of the temptation to airbrush the whole story. We’ve come perilously close to making it a fable that fuels our economy instead of a truth that should shatter our darkness.
Mrs. Kineke is a parishioner of Our Lady of Mercy in East Greenwich, and can be found online at feminine-genius.com.