Never far from view at Christmastime is the shadow of threat pressing hard upon innocence. A bloodthirsty tyrant hears news of a future king and out of his jealousy conceives a monstrous crime: the slaughter of all the infant boys in the region of Bethlehem.
In our day the assault on innocence is no less monstrous. Some of it is the occasion for public outrage, indignation, and grief; some of it is passed over in silence, or stealthily treated with a pseudo-science emollient to soften its harshness.
But the great power and joy of Christmas lies in its extraordinary reversal, with innocence at the center of it. Skeptics and freethinkers never tire of reading their solemn lectures on the innumerable antecedents for Yuletide in pagan festivals at the winter solstice, but the truth is that the Incarnation is a doctrine too paradoxical to admit of mortal origins. The Lord God Himself comes into the world as a helpless infant. The greatest strength is tied up in the most vulnerable weakness. True Kingship resides in a babe incapable of even the most basic voluntary action. As Chesterton put it, “the main business of the story,” “an ancient and admitted paradox,” “was that the absolute once ruled the universe from a cattle stall.”
A more squalid reversal lies in the transformation of this most domestic of holidays into a most tedious commercial one; all the notes of Christian particularity vanish, replaced by saccharine sentiment and odious jingles.
But the particularities can never be effaced. It is only in the particular details that the paradoxes are revealed in their fullness. And perhaps the most stirring detail is that shining innocence, shockingly exposed to all the callousness and malice of the weary world.
“And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.” Until we recover the holy fear of shepherds, we shall not recover the true spirit of Christmas. For the Christ-child is fearsome. Judgment, too, is present in the Nativity. The assaults upon the innocent will not go unanswered. Justice will roll down like waters. Even now the martyrs cry out: “How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?”
With apologies for these bare and inadequate reflections, we at What’s Wrong with the World wish our readers a very Merry Christmas.