What’s Wrong with the World

The men signed of the cross of Christ go gaily in the dark.


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O Night Divine


But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.” (Mt. 1:20)

One of the happier trends among Roman Catholics in recent years has been a deliberate recovery of the traditions of Advent, which attract increasing commentary and reflection with every passing year. Christmastide itself is, it has to be said, burdened by very high expectations that in this era of constant plenty are difficult to satisfy. Compared with the simple joy and serenity of the Nativity, Advent recalls a tale of great peril, revelation, even adventure. It is a story of spiritual combat and historical rupture on the grandest scale, and so it is well that Christians in this time of seemingly apocalyptic darkness are drawn to ever-closer study of its central characters, and to the remembrance of that virtue that each of them has in common: Courage, that disdain of the fallen world which comes from Faith.

John the Baptist crying out in Essene zeal of the coming of the Light, who faces death as with contempt for a fallen enemy. Mary of Nazareth, who tradition informs us assented with full awareness to the hard way prepared for her, and whose parturiency was itself a perfect Advent of the body and spirit. And St. Joseph, who received the angel’s message to “fear not” the betrothal of Mary, not for the base reasons supposed by the modern reader, but because all men of piety fear to endure the glance of God’s most glorious servants — and who among them has ever been more glorious than she?

Thinking on all this, I am reminded that for every generation, it takes an act of spiritual courage to embrace with sincere peace of heart the coming of Christmastide and to meet the shadows and threats of the age as the fleeting phantoms that they are. Onward, then, and may our faith in the One God bequeath to us all a very Merry Christmas.

— Sage McLaughlin

This Advent season I’ve become more aware of the carol “In the Bleak Midwinter” than I ever was before, through hearing it a few times on Christian radio. I never quite realized how beautiful it is. It has some of the same poignancy of a long-time favorite, “Lo, How a Rose.” I’m thinking here of the line, “She bore to men a Savior, when half-spent was the night.” The English translation has a wonderful ambiguity, not present in the original German, on the word “spent”: When the night was half over, and when the night was half exhausted. I think, too, of the Advent hymn “O Very God of Very God,” which includes this verse:

Our hopes are weak, our fears are strong,
thick darkness blinds our eyes;
cold is the night; thy people long
that thou, their Sun, wouldst rise.

To the picture of light coming in a time of darkness and bleakness, Christina Rosetti’s poem “In the Bleak Midwinter” adds the awesome knowledge of the Incarnation: “Heaven and earth shall flee away, when he comes to reign. In the bleak midwinter, a stable place sufficed.”

But when we got to the last verse, I was brought up short:

What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb.
If I were a wise man, I would do my part.
Yet what can I give him? Give my heart.

“Yes, but,” I thought, “what if it is precisely in my heart that I am most poor? What if it is just there, in depth of love, in faith, in trust, that I am weakest? What do I have to give Him then?” And I don’t have a full answer. But I do have this: Give your heart anyway. Give the fact that you want to have a better heart to give, and He will give you a new heart. It may take a while. Sanctification isn’t instantaneous by a long shot. It will certainly hurt. But in the end, the heart of flesh that He gives in exchange for the heart of stone will be what you give back to Him. And that is more than enough.

— Lydia McGrew

This Advent season got me thinking about hierarchies. I know not why. The whole modern world stands in revolt against the very idea of authority. Given the character of our visible authorities, most men feel some sympathy for the instinct of revolt.

But all authority comes from God. We are all under the authority of the Lord Jesus, who was born of Mary, bearing his final lordship even in infancy. It’s the great reversal of Christmas: all justice and honor and glory and authority, there in the flesh, in the person of a helpless baby.

Even human infancy gives us a peek. Consider the picture of the grumpy grandfather, ready to grumble impreciations at his family, until the baby granddaughter coos at him. Then his stern face melts. Or the steely general, with long years in the service, moved to tears when a toddler beams a smile at him.

We are all under the authority of the Infant — our Lord of Christmas. The Manger is the very throne of the Universe.

For on that silent night, in a manger, the babe was born Who would be Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. And the government shall be upon his shoulder.

Merry Christmas!

— Paul Cella

Comments (3)

Thank you all. This made lovely almost-midnight reading. Merry Christmas, and God bless.

A blessed Christmas to you all!😊

Thank you, Sage, Lydia, and Paul. Good words, every one of them.

Thank you Beth and Nobody, for coming here again and spending some time at Christmas with us. And our other readers who don't post, as well. Merry Christmas to all of you, and a blessed new year.

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