My reflection on Christmas is fairly unusual in that I spent this great feast of the Incarnation of the λόγος alone. I was about to say for the first time, but it was also the case when I was living in a very difficult situation. I was then also in a state of loneliness. I would celebrate the Vigil Mass and the three Christmas Masses even though there was no congregation. Would such solitude “ruin” Christmas?
I was not alone. This array of cards shows loving care from my family, friends and from Bishop Damien Mead. I had many more e-mails and greetings on media like Facebook.
Many themes in the liturgy of Christmas filled me with gratitude and thanks to my caring sisters who helped me move to my new home. Christmas is not only physical presence with one’s family, especially when such is impossible because of the present pandemic restrictions on travel. Also, a choice is imposed between a secular Christmas and the liturgical Mystery which requires my little chapel. I am grateful for this solitude all in caring for those I love, and also praying for those who are alone because of age, illness, being in quarantine, at sea, exiled, destitute. I am thinking about millions of people who live in worse conditions than the Stable of Bethlehem! I have a home and my translating work enables me to earn an honest living. Gratitude is everything, along with humility, just being little and in God’s hands.
It is too easy to virtue-signal about secular Christmas – parties on Christmas Eve, the Réveillon as we call it in France, pieces of foie gras on toast and champagne, laughter and gaity around the Christmas tree. When the family is united (not ideologically divided), it can be a very fulfilling time. Some families make it their business to go to church and begin Christmas by what it really means, before the baubles, tinsel and things that pass like a puff of smoke.
It is very revealing that political authorities talk of “saving” Christmas, as if Christmas was reduced to that big family get-together, eating and drinking (perhaps to excess) and the ritual of presents, many of which are not appreciated by the recipients and have to be returned to the shops that sold them. The Incarnation of the λόγος is buried.
How many of us follow Advent and those illuminating Prophecies of Isaiah? There shalt came forth a Rod out of the Stem of Jesse… These words are symbols, and will be unintelligible to those who are ignorant of Old Testament Judaism and the Messianic tradition. Institutional churches reduce liturgical services to the level of entertainment instead of bringing back the disciplina arcani and initiating the faithful through catechesis in the knowledge that most do not have the interest, motivation or spiritual readiness.
The entire Christmas message is arcane and esoteric. Do we imagine that a star moved to lead the Magi to Bethlehem any more than Eve being tempted by a talking snake? These are symbols that express a mystical reality than cannot be expressed in words. One or all of the Magi or Wise Men were astrologers, and were guided by the constellations and positions of the stars in the signs of the Zodiac, or whatever system they were using. The gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh were also symbolic. Jesus was not only the Messiah of Israel, but also the hope of all nations and peoples on this earth who received the primitive revelation and moral law. Spending Advent and Christmas in study and meditation are infinitely more precious than family get-togethers that often rankle of hypocrisy and ideological tensions.
Christ first revealed himself to the humble, to shepherds and farming folk, to wise astrologers who sought the Light that promised to re-create the world and humanity. The Virgin Mary is also a sign, not only that gentle and loving mother protecting her new-born baby, but also the Wisdom of God, the new Eve, who would care for the Church. Here I don’t mean the institutional Church and the Pope, but the communion of all the faithful and the Communion of Saints. These signs open our minds and lift the veil (II Corinthians iii. 16). See the expression in its context:
And not as Moses, which put a vail over his face, that the children of Israel could not stedfastly look to the end of that which is abolished: But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which vail is done away in Christ. But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart. Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the vail shall be taken away. Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.
This veil remains in the hearts and minds of all those who refuse the World of Ideas outside our materialistic view. This is also the case with many who call themselves Christians, seeking to reduce everything to worldly concerns. Existence without God or having “cancelled culture” lead the nihilist into the ultimate loneliness of life without purpose or self-understanding. This is something that the Covid lockdowns brought out and drove many into despair and depression. Social life needs to be about what we can bring to others, and not the construction of ourselves from the consciousness of others. The whole difference is there. Living alone in this village of northern France, I am not lonely even though I live in solitude. That solitude is a precious gift that cannot be obtained by most people.
I wish all my readers a blessed Christmas Octave and the unfolding of these great mysteries through the Epiphany and the events leading to the Holy Triduum.