In a blessed stable a picture is seen.
Parents, Jesus there.
An ass looking on, an ox beaming
at the best hay of the year. …
Yet in this joy is sensed a shadow,
an intimation of loss.
A ghostly fear of a dark tomorrow
with thorns and a heavy cross.
But now the heav’ns spin fast around,
it’s jubilation day.
Infinity’s ears are whipped by sound,
would this day so stay.
Hodie Christus natus est.
The holy child is born.
In his love [our] hope does rest
On this eternal morn.
~ Robert Tear, 1939-2011
Among all the Christmas hymnody and verse, I often find most affecting that poetry which recognizes a link between Jesus’ birth and his Passion.
That link was there from the earliest moments, of course. At the presentation of the infant child Jesus in the temple, as Simeon sings his song of rejoicing and blesses the holy family, he utters also that foreboding word to Mary: “A sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:35)
We are apt, however, to think of the Nativity and the Passion as wholly separate events, preferring to keep our Christmas purely in the realm of light and good cheer. Even John the Baptist, whose challenging presence and prophetic words are so prominent in Advent, is thoroughly banished from our holiday mindset, finding no pride of place in Christmas card or tree.
Still, these two foundational feasts of our faith are inextricably linked. At Christmas the ordeal of a dispossessed couple and the stunned fear of hillside shepherds gives way to unimagined joy: a quiet birth is declared to be of cosmic significance. At Easter the anguish of grieving friends and the stunned fear of the disciples gives way to unimaginable hope: the spark of a quiet rebirth is declared yet again to be of eternal weight and glory.
I am richly blessed by our Christmas observance–by joyous carol services, by the warmth of family gathering and by the message of Emmanuel: God with us. I am the more blessed in knowing that this newborn child has come not only to take on life, but to conquer death. Love Incarnate will do that. When, three years ago, my father died on Christmas Eve, the message of that night could not have been more certain.
‘Hodie Christus natus est.’ The holy child is born. In his love our hope does rest on this eternal morn.
The achingly joyous moments of our lives are part of the same journey that includes our deepest fears and sorrows. God has joined heaven and earth by this Child, and so are we promised God’s abiding presence, from birth to death, and beyond.
Christmas blessings to you and yours.
The Rt. Rev. Alan M. Gates