Online Edition Vol. VI, No. 9
December 2000 – January 2001
by Father Jerry Pokorsky
There is something wonderful about Christmas. Christmas is wonderful because it often brings out great generosity in people. There is good cheer and family reunions and profound gratitude for God and family. There are stories and legends that have grown up over the centuries: good St. Nick; Christmas trees; wreaths; music and pageantry. All of these practices enshrine a central fact about Christmas, namely, that Jesus Christ, the second Person of the Blessed Trinity, was born into the world 2,000 years ago.
We celebrate Christmas because Jesus Christ draws all people to Himself: Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, the three kings, you and me, the whole world. Although He is the "only-begotten" Son of the Father, we too have become sons in the Son adopted sons and daughters in Christ by way of the sacraments. We have been incorporated into the mystical body of Christ by way of Baptism. And so we can dare to call God "Father". As adopted sons, we have become if we respond to His graces His divine instruments. This is our unique dignity as Christians.
But Christmas can be a time of scandal as well, even a fearful time. Sometimes the explanation is easy. Folks who have lost family members can find Christmas to be an exceptionally lonely time. But other times, the explanation has to do with the apparent triumph of sin. Christmas can be a time of debauchery and abuse. In the 19th century, there were drunken riots in some of our major cities as Christmas approached. In our own time, Christmas has become an advertising gimmick and Christmas continues to be an excuse for debauchery. In the meantime, in the public square, manger scenes have been removed; and the very name "Christmas" has been replaced by the secular and generic label, "Winter Holiday".
This "fearful symmetry" of Christmas on the one hand, the silent night, holy night, the night of the Child Jesus, and, on the other hand, the raucous "happy holidays" secularism finds its origin in the Scriptures. Since the fall of Adam and Eve, man has always been ambivalent about innocence. Man has always been attracted to innocence and abusive towards it. The loss of innocence was the cause of Adam and Eve’s shame. Herod’s envy and hatred of innocence was the reason for his murderous attack on the child Jesus. It was the hatred of innocence that put Jesus Christ to death. It is our own fear of innocence and memory of our abuse of innocence that explains why we fear intimacy with God.
The truth is, we’ve lost our innocence, we’ve crucified it: we’ve put Innocence to death. Mother Teresa once held a newborn in her arms, scrunched its little face in her hand and raising it toward the camera said, "Boo"! She asked, "Why are little ones like this frightening to people in the West? Because they’re innocent, and therefore children are the most Christ-like that’s why".
We shouldn’t be surprised that innocence frightens us. We fear innocence because we fear being humble instruments of God. So we will not serve. Why? Because we fear the loss of our freedom. But didn’t the God-man tell us, "You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free"? Yet we fear the truth because we don’t want to give up our slavery to sin. We’re not alone. In fact, fear and slavery to sin is in our blood.
After the fall, Adam and Eve lost their innocence. So they were ashamed of themselves and fearful of God. They were alienated from each other and alienated from God Himself. They blamed each other and insisted that the "devil made them do it". They were not to blame; they were not accountable; they would not accept responsibility for their disobedience. And so they and all of us after them unleashed a maelstrom of evil that continues and intensifies. Nations suffered and continue to suffer; nations bled and continue to bleed; nations died and continue to die in their sins.
But God refuses to abandon us. He renewed His covenant with His people again and again. The covenant with Noah, with Abraham and Moses would be renewed in different ways. But the covenant would be the same: an agreement, plain and simple. With God as one of the parties, the covenant became an unbreakable agreement between God and man. It reads simply, "Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people…" (Jer. 7:23). Innocence is restored through obedience: Worship the one God; keep holy the Sabbath; do not kill or commit adultery or steal; do not lie. Reasonable enough terms. But terms so easily ignored.
So in the fullness of time, God sent His only begotten Son into the world. Jesus Christ came into the world to restore man to innocence, and to restore the divine intimacy lost by sin. And He tells us throughout the Gospel to "be not afraid."
The truth is, the child Jesus, in His person, is the perfect covenant between God and man and He shows us the way. And so the "Word was made flesh and dwelt among us". Man has received a transfusion of innocence.
Christmas! In the child Jesus, we see the truth of the glory of God: we see man fully alive; fully free: "and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free" (John 8:32). Today we find the "truth," the Word made flesh in all innocence, in a humble manger.
Innocence frightens us because fear is in our blood. So we need a transfusion. Allow your fears to be overcome with awesome power of innocent blood; the innocent blood of a Child; the innocent blood of the Cross. Be infused with the Body and Blood of the new and everlasting covenant of the Mass. And know the peace of the Christ Child forever.
Father Pokorsky, a priest of the Arlington diocese serving at St. Peter’s Parish in Washington, Virginia, is a member of the Adoremus executive committee. The foregoing was his Christmas homily in 1999.