Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Though skeptics try at times, in the service of their own silly parallelisms, to imply that the December 25 date for Christmas is somehow essential to Christianity, most Christians know that this is not true. We don't actually know what time of year Our Lord was born.

But I think that those men who decided--whoever they were--to celebrate it in December were wise. Of course, they didn't foresee the spread of Christianity to the antipodes, where all is topsy-turvy and this time of year is warm, with long, sunny, days. Our brethren Down Under will have to forgive us for celebrating that whole, wonderful, awe-inspiring cultural structure that has grown up around the (probably deliberate) decision to celebrate the Feast of the Nativity at the time of the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, the time of darkness and cold.

Many beautiful carols have arisen out of this choice, but one of my favorites is "Lo, How a Rose," and in all of it, my favorite line in the English translation is

She bore to men a Savior, when half-spent was the night.

The allusion here is double. First, the line alludes to the quotation from the apocryphal Book of Wisdom which is used in the introit to the Mass for Christmas:

While all things were in quiet silence, and the night was in the midst of her course, Thine almighty Word, O Lord, leaped down from heaven from Thy royal throne.

But the phrase also alludes, probably, to Romans 13:12,

The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.

By a happy accident, if it was an accident, of the translation, one can take the statement that the night was half-spent to mean either that the night was half over or that the night was half exhausted.

The time, in our world and in our country, is not bright. We may indeed feel that we are deep in the night, that the night is half-spent, and that our civilization, too, is half-spent, exhausted, its vital force and will to live running out.

The message of Christianity, embodied in the choice of the darkest time of the year for the celebration of the birth of the Light of the World, is that it is at just those times that God acts. Ever since Adam fell mankind has been in darkness. But St. John tells us that the light shone in the darkness, and the darkness was not able to overcome it. Into this, our dark world, God sent His Son, made of a woman, that we might receive the adoption of sons.

Thanks be to God.


William Luse said...

Merry Christmas to the McGrews.

Gina M. Danaher said...

Merry Christmas to you and yours Lydia. In the quiet of the morning as I am gearing up for the festivities of the day, I appreciated your post very much.

Lydia McGrew said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lydia McGrew said...

Thanks, guys. Gina, I'm so glad to have you as a new reader at Extra Thoughts.

Bill, please don't tell me I must think you live in a cave if I ask you this. (I have no idea what songs people know.) Eldest Daughter put Steve Curtis Chapman's "I Will Be Here" on a CD for me. Do you know it? I think you'd like it.

Madeleine said...

"Of course, they didn't foresee the spread of Christianity to the antipodes, where all is topsy-turvy and this time of year is warm, with long, sunny, days."

Christmas down under was rather hot, the humidity is only increasing as the days go on, so you can imagine my reaction to the gift of a whole, ginormous, turkey with the condition that I roast it, with all the roast trimmings, for the family giving it to share with us - I told them to wait til it was winter or cook it themselves! Who wants to spend 3-4 hours roasting a meal in 95%+ humidity?!?

That said, despite the increasing trend towards salad and cold cuts on Christmas day in my country I still cannot quite bring myself to find such a meal appropriate for Christmas. So typically I make like my friends, and try to get myself invited to a traditional meal that I did not have to suffer through heat exhaustion to cook!

Lydia McGrew said...

Madeleine, I think you would practically have to go to a restaurant to have a traditional Christmas dinner and be cool under those circumstances!

Don't people have air conditioning down there?