Monday, December 23, 2013

The Hidden Christmas

Christmas Midnight Mass 2013

When Christmas comes around every year, the child-like love for all that glitter, the glamour and the warm fuzzy feel-good exuberance of this season is reignited. It’s not as if we do not struggle with this feeling. Many of us also have to deal with a gnawing feeling of guilt for having subscribed to the commercialisation of this celebration as the Church constantly reminds us of the need to observe the penitential nature of Advent, the need for sobriety in our celebrations, the refocusing of our celebration in the person of Jesus Christ, and the rejection of the commercial agenda of Xmas. At times, it does seem that the Church sadistically enjoys taking the fun out of Christmas. Sigh …

Over the years, I have come to suspect that we can’t entirely blame the commercial and secular world for having hijacked Christmas and taken Jesus Christ, the real star of this celebration, off-stage. Perhaps, the real problem lies with us being unable to uncover the real Christmas, the Hidden Christmas. It’s the Christmas which promises a Jesus, the Invisible Deity made visible, hidden within all the symbols and signs, the Christmas tree, the presents that lie beneath its branches, within that smile and legendary charity of the iconic Santa Claus, within the lights, colours and music that assault our senses. If we look closely, we will come to recognise that Jesus is everywhere to be discovered, but often hidden and concealed, just like the Christmas baby – unnoticed by the world at large, but recognised only by those who are able to recognise the true light of his presence in the midst of their personal darkness. This is the beauty of Christmas that is kept hidden from public view.

Our Christmas is indeed hidden from view. This is because the Kingdom of God, as the parable goes, is like a treasure hidden in the field, it is hidden in order that it may be found. It’s the story of how God leaves obvious and apparent clues in order for us to find Him. His mission is not to obscure, but to reveal. Our Christmas located in a grotto (the Cave), not displayed on billboard, broadcasted on television or in the internet or at the mall. There is no fame or celebrity in the Nativity of Christ. There is no headline news to herald the event. It would not have trended on Twitter. It would have been ignored on Facebook. No one would have blogged about the Christ Child. Your GPS would not have tracked the Wise Men. Neither would our national space agency or the astronomical department or NASA, have paid attention to the Bethlehem Star except as a discovery of a new constellation or the occurrence of a supernova. To the public, whose vision is blind as their faith, its real meaning lies hidden.

Our Christmas secret is that the Son of God chose to be born in obscurity. God hides in the cave of Bethlehem for a reason. For thousands of years, the mystery was kept hidden under a veil of shadows and vague dreams. But on Christmas night, God chose to reveal this secret to the world. He revealed the plan for the liberation and redemption of humanity, freedom from the oppression of sin and death, his blueprint of rescuing mankind from the clutches of Satan. But his revelation took place within the hidden recesses of a cave, in an obscure little village of Bethlehem, at a moment that went unnoticed, except to a few. Why would God choose to reveal himself in the hidden mystery of the cave? Why shepherds? Why would God choose to make His most spectacular announcement to a group least able to comprehend its most profound meaning or suffer the lack of means to spread it?

The birth of Jesus in such stark simplicity is not an accident.  Jesus chose to be born in those circumstances to show us who God is.  The Christian God is not a distant much less an absent God, but a God who is present in history but who cares for and directs history. The world expects a powerful domineering God to make showy pyrotechnically enhanced entrance. They are expecting a transcendental God who must always come from the outside. But the God of Love actually came from a different direction: God is no outsider, God is Emmanuel, He is with us, through the Incarnation, God has always been an insider. Jesus Christ was born in the secrecy of the cave to reveal the fact that the Son of God is offered as a gift - but a gift that can be opened only at our deepest self, where we are the poorest, the weakest and most vulnerable...where we are who we really are. That is why the lowly shepherds were able to discern his coming, and not those who consider themselves in the thick of things, those in power, those who have all the answers.

For it is only those who are at the bottom of the social ladder, the dregs of society, those beaten, defeated and termed failures, those considered mad, who would understand and appreciate the real meaning of God’s condescension in the Incarnation. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, descended from infinite transcendence into our broken up tiny little darkness. He brought His divinity to bear upon our humanity by uniting both in his very person. In Himself He gathers up the alienated fragments of the human race, the broken pieces of ourselves; broken by our violence, our desperations, our addictions and despondencies, our hopeless biographies. In His own Person, He meticulously puts the pieces back together again. And He does this in the secret Cave - the cave where no one is rich and self-sufficient, where no one is powerful, where no one is famous nor can demand privilege. It is a cave too small for the likes of kings and those who prefer more sanitary conditions, but large enough to house those who are aware of their very own littleness in the presence of the Incarnate God of Love.

Yes, it is necessary that God hides from us, so that our dependence is not built upon an experience of Him, or even on facts about Him, beyond all feeling, learning and even experience – but rather, our dependence is placed strictly on Him and Him alone. The Spartan poverty of the cave is a gift to us: it allows us to consolidate our brokenness, our woundedness, our failure, our insecurities and slavish fears and allow all these to be transformed into a blessing of incomprehensible value. And when we have little left of our presumptuous self-sufficiency and pretentious intelligence, then we can see the world anew. God may be hidden from the world, but for the Christian, He is apparent to behold.

We see in our Christmas tree the story of salvation unfolding from the moment of Adam and Eve’s fall for having eaten the forbidden fruit (the baubles) after placing their trust in the words of the serpent (the curling tinsels) instead of the promises of God. But the tree is also the gibbet on which our Saviour hung and died, thus transforming the curse into a blessing. We see in it the promise of eternal life, for through the sacrifice of Christ on the branches of the cross, the tree that poisoned us and which sentenced us to death has been transformed into the Tree of Life, which yields fruits that provides the antidote to death, and from it flows  the sweet elixir of immortality. In Santa Claus, we recognise the figure of Christ, who bountifully rewards us with his blessings and the great gift of salvation and who will come at the end of time to judge us and he will know whether we’ve been naughty or nice. In the carols we belt out and hear over the radio, we hear that great Christmas proclamation resounding once again, that “a Saviour has been born to you, He is Christ the Lord!”

Let us go meet Him, you and me, and adore Him who alone is worthy of our praises. Let us be whole again. Let us be brother and sister again. Let us rejoice in the knowledge of this great and divine, splendid Secret, this Hidden Christmas and broadcast it to the world. Let us shout it from the housetops, above the darkness, above the noisy and often angry cacophony of a world gone blind and deaf, that Jesus Christ is born!  “A Saviour has been born to you, He is Christ the Lord!”

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