Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
December 25, 2015
"In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled." Luke 2:1
The story is told that on the day of Christ's birth the Emperor Augustus consulted a prophetess, the Tiburtine Sybyl. The Roman Senate wished to name the Roman Emperor a god because under him peace had seemingly come to the world. The wise Emperor, knowing he was only a man, asked the prophetess whether the world one day would see the birth of one greater than he. At this moment, the Sibyl saw a golden ring surrounding the sun and in the middle stood a beautiful virgin with a child at her bosom. A voice was heard to say, "This woman is the Altar of Heaven." Then, the Sibyl spoke to the Emperor, "This child will be greater than you" (c.13th century, Jacobus de Voragine, The Golden Legend for the Feast of the Nativity).
I repeat this story because it teaches a lesson that our Christian ancestors understood all too well, that Jesus Christ is the Lord of History and no emperor, dictator, king or president is greater than He. The wonder and awe of the birth of Jesus Christ remind us that God makes His greatness known first in the most humble of circumstances. The Son of God is born to a virgin and placed in a feeding trough for animals, because "there was no room for them in the inn" (Luke 2:7).
The birth of Jesus Christ is a marvel to behold. It is the Divine paradox that from something so small and insignificant should come something so great. This astounding truth has inspired countless artists, poets, composers, philosophers, and holy men and women for centuries of Christianity. Angels burst forth from heaven, like a roaring army on a battlefield, and cry out, "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests" (Luke 2:14). The wonder of greatness overflowing in simplicity would inspire Shakespeare to write:
Some say that ever 'gainst that season comes
wherein our Savior's birth is celebrated,
The bird of dawning singeth all night long.
And then, they say, no spirit dare stir abroad.
The nights are wholesome. Then no planets strike,
No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,
So hallowed and so gracious is that time.
(Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 1)
What makes Christmas "[s]o hallowed and so gracious" a time flows from the Divine paradox. God takes what the world would consider insignificant and transforms the world with it.
Thanks be to God! "[A] Savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord (Luke 2:11). He is a savior to rescue us from this world of corruption. He brings us hope, He strengthens faith, and He instills love. But He first appears as an infant.
The Augustans of this world still have problems with this. To them the Divine paradox is a stumbling block for their pride. They relegate Christ to myth, seek to rob us of our joy, and call false what is true and evil what is good. I read only today about an Office of Diversity and Inclusion at a major university in this country which issued a 'best practices' directive for the campus to 'ensure your holiday party is not a Christmas party in disguise'" (WSJ "The Year Christmas Died," A9, Thursday, December 24, 2015). In the Soviet Union the celebration of Christmas was a prosecutable offense. Old tactics never die. The just take on different forms. However, the celebration of Christmas is more than parties, Santa costumes, and egg nog. Christmas is the Divine paradox, and it is we who must remove the screen from our eyes to see the elegant truth of its simplicity and poverty.
The Holy See announced this week that the Holy Father would canonize Blessed Teresa of Calcutta next year. How appropriate a Christmas gift! Here is another demonstration of the Divine paradox. This diminutive woman, stooped and bent, became a remarkable witness to the power of God in the world. But like those who would rob us of the joy of Christmas, the media reported that not all were pleased with the news of Blessed Teresa's coming canonization. There were questions about her opposition to birth control in Calcutta's slums and the quality of her clinics (cf. Associated Press, December 19, 2015). Like Caesar strolling his Capitol Hill marveling at being acclaimed a god, the minions of of secularism resist what Shakespeare called "[s]o hallowed and so gracious." They would have us forget the Divine paradox, which is that redemption comes from something so simple, humble and weak.
This paradox comes from God himself. He proclaimed this to us one night in Bethlehem of Judea, when a virgin named Mary wrapped a small child "in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger" (Luke 2:7). God offered the world his final word in the wordless crying of a baby "so hallowed and so gracious" was the night. "So hallowed and so gracious" was the night that nothing more was said. The angels left, the shepherds came, and silence descended. The Word had spoken.