New Birth and Battle

‘Now burn, new born to the world!’ – Gerard Manley Hopkins

I recall one December when two warring nations agreed to a cease-fire. In light of the Prince of Peace, they agreed to a temporary peace, only to resume the battle a day later.

Like you, I will awake on Dec. 26th to the sounds of air-raids and bombs dropping. I will not linger in misty dreams of an eternal cease-fire; I must face the battle.

I derive courage from Bonhoeffer who warned his ‘army’ opposing Hitler to not use Christmas as a fantasy island, a nostalgic defense against the threat of death. Rather, he implored them to welcome the Child-King into their depths, the Christ who descended there on Christmas to make them His freedom-fighters, faithful and true!

My church bears witness of this Christmas passion eloquently, upon the altar. Christ Crucified remains central, even at Advent. But from the Lamb a sash of royal purple descends and frames a small figure of Mary on the side. She is illuminated, open and humble, and one can see that the strand of purple that descends to her also ascends from her to the babe, her Son Crucified. In a flash, the symbolism helped me recognize the indivisible bond between the God who became flesh, and the flesh that was pierced.

Mary helps us here, as we can understand the whole of Christ’s human life through her eyes, from the crib to the cross. In her humanity, we can understand His: her marvel of the Babe, and the sword that pierced her soul at His piercing.

Christmas peace brings a sword. From the cradle to the tomb, He waged and won the war that we must still fight—the fight for all to know Mercy, and be reunited with their original dignity.

Deeply grateful this Christmas, I still grieve over the state of the wounded and deceived. I just read that one in five women in the United States has been sexually assaulted, that the Obama administration recently championed gay rights as fundamental human rights to all the nations of the earth at a UN Council (a secular view of human sexuality, at least), and that divorce is now so common among conservative Christians that ‘anti-divorce’ arguments have all but disappeared’ from our ranks.

We run the risk of losing our bite and our fight as Christians, choosing to dull the darkness rather than combat it with the radiance of Jesus.

This Christmas, let us welcome the Babe who composes us in order to rouse us. From the crib to the cross, He gave all. He won our hearts, that we might hold nothing back to win the world. May His peace prepare you for war.

Like Bonhoeffer, Edith Stein was executed in a Nazi death camp. She writes: ‘The way from Bethlehem leads inevitably to Golgotha, from the crib to the cross. When the blessed virgin brought the child to the temple, Simeon prophesied that her soul would be pierced by a sword, that this child was set for the rising and falling of many. His prophecy announced the passion, the fight between light and darkness that already showed itself at the crib.’

‘Now burn, new born to the world!’