The darkness of the first Christmas was not only that of a cold winter night in Bethlehem. It was also the darkness of a society in which men, despite living in the greatest empire in history, were far from true happiness; because power, riches, and honours bring only trouble and affliction when one is unable to use them for the glory of God.Child Jesus, the only light of hope in the dark night of our time – Voice of the Family
by Roberto de Mattei
The darkness of the first Christmas was not only that of a cold winter night in Bethlehem. It was also the darkness of a society in which men, despite living in the greatest empire in history, were far from true happiness; because power, riches, and honours bring only trouble and affliction when one is unable to use them for the glory of God. At the beginning of the Christian era, Divine Providence filled the void of the world: “Fear not,” the Angels announced to the shepherds, “for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, that shall be to all the people: For, this day, is born to you a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David” (Lk 2:10-11).
It is not easy to recognise in that Child, born in a cave of Bethlehem, the Saviour and the Lord of Heaven and earth; it is necessary to become a child like Him, because the hardened hearts of the proud cannot understand what is clear to the eyes of the simple. Our Lord says, “Unless you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 18:3), and also, “Lord…thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them to the little ones” (Mt 11:25).
The shepherds became little like the Infant Jesus; adoring God in Him; the God who, as Saint Augustine writes, “had assumed what he was not, to remain what he was”. Saint Leo the Great, in his turn, comments: “His state is new because, while remaining invisible in His nature, He has become visible in our nature. He who is infinite, wanted to be confined in space; while remaining in His eternity, he wanted to exist in time.”
The One born in the crib is the Incarnate Word: true God and true man, whom the nations had awaited for centuries; who came into the world to glorify God and to redeem mankind.
The shepherds and the Magi understood His greatness, which the Sanhedrin would reject, condemning Him to death. Pride cannot understand that there is only one Church, one true religion, only one Word of salvation. Yet, on Christmas day, “Truth is sprung out of the earth” (Ps. 84, 12) and the salvation of the world is born for all: the salvific value of the coming of Jesus is for all times and all places. The Apostles spread this saving truth throughout the whole world; the Christians of the first centuries professed it under persecution, finally to see it publicly recognised by Constantine.
The truth of the Gospel gave life to a great civilisation, which emerged powerfully from the chaos of a barbaric age, because of the natural and supernatural influence of a people baptised and ordered towards Christ. This new world conformed harmoniously to the natural order of God’s creation and to the supernatural order of His Redemption.
This new society, daughter of the Gospel, was Christian civilisation and its roots ran deep into the mystery of Christmas. “Considering the facts in a historical perspective,” writes Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, “Holy Christmas was the first day in the life of Christian civilisation: a life still in bud; incipient, like the first rays of the rising sun; but a life that already contained within itself all the incomparably rich elements of the splendid maturity to which it was destined.”
After reaching its peak during the Middle Ages, Christian civilisation was hit by a process of decline. Leo XIII writes in the encyclical Immortale Dei that the “harmful and deplorable passion for innovation, which was aroused in the sixteenth century, first of all, threw the Christian religion into confusion, and then, by natural sequence, invaded the precincts of philosophy, whence it spread amongst all classes of society.”
The religious, intellectual, political and social spheres became embroiled in a process of dissolution, which began in the name of man, but, denying God, turned against man — made in His image and likeness.
Today the moral evil that has attacked Christian and Western man has reached its final stage. Its metastases seem to spread even within the Mystical Body of Christ. The world is in turmoil and hearts are filled with anguish. The Church and society live through a time of profound confusion. The eyes turn to the sky and see only the darkness of a starless night.
The world has no need of summits, solemn proclamations or perplexing intellectual constructions in order to navigate, but only of simplicity of heart, which penetrates to the depths of things and reveals their most hidden aspects. The Christian knows that the mystery of Christmas, like that of the Resurrection, is the luminous reality, which pierces the deepest darkness. As in Bethlehem, so throughout subsequent history.
Proud hearts reject the idea that the action of Divine Providence might upset the plans of men and initiate a great Christian renaissance in the 21st century. Simple hearts contemplating the Holy Crib during Christmas time, understand how light can appear unexpectedly in darkness. Today, everything is noise and disorder; in the Crib everything is order, recollection, interior life. The world around us is suspended threateningly like foam on a stormy sea. The Nativity scene reminds us of the inmost depths of that sea, from which Mary, the Mother of the Word Incarnate, took her name.1 We ask her to give us the Holy Child, the only unwavering light that continues to illumine the night of our time.
- In Latin “mare”, pl. “maria” – sea.