Mysteries Inside of Mysteries
December 24, 2017
In later years, after raising all of us kids and after my dad’s death, my mother finally got to engage in the travel she loved so much. The highlight of all her travels was a trip to Russia, not too long after the Soviet Union fell. As a souvenir, she brought back home with her one of those famous Russian dolls. These were egg shaped, beautifully hand-painted, hollow wooden dolls. When you opened one up by pulling it apart at the seam at the middle, you would find another one slightly smaller, inside, just as beautiful and ornate as the first. That one in turn could be opened up in its middle, only to reveal another smaller one, and so on. Some of these sets had as many as seven dolls, one inside the other until you came to the tiniest beautiful doll in the center.
I think that is a great image for the Christmas season that begins today on December 25th, the Nativity of Our Lord. As Catholics, we don’t celebrate Christmas for just one day, only to chuck out our Christmas trees on the 26th. Instead, we celebrate a whole season of three weeks, because once each mystery of Christmas is opened up, another one just as beautiful and deep is revealed inside it, as we get deeper and deeper into the mystery of the Incarnation – the Word of God becoming flesh and “pitching His tent” among us. (See the beginning of St. John’s Gospel).
As we plunge ever deeper into the mysteries, we see each one inextricably connected to the other: the fact that the infinite and uncontainable God and Creator of the Universe was contained in the womb of the Virgin Mary; the fact that the self-same God-man in astonishing humility chose to be born into the poverty of a dirty stable with no crib except a borrowed feeding trough; the fact that this earth-shattering event was almost invisible to mankind – with just the tiniest handful of shepherds and wise wanderers aware of the secret that would transform all of human history; the fact that this event would remain hidden in the beauty of the quiet family life of a nowhere town like Nazareth for decades; the fact that this God-man, Who would redeem man from the incalculable weight of his wickedness and sin, would give us the gift of baptism to make us adopted sons and daughters to share in His divine Sonship and light.
All these and so many more mysteries are wrapped inside each other to be revealed in our joyful celebration of the Christmas season. No wonder we need three weeks to pray over and contemplate it all!
I would like to leave you with a beautiful reflection from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, from his midnight Mass homily of 2007. It reminds us that our Christmas season will not be well spent unless we actively commit to making room in our hearts for Jesus Christ, the Newborn King and Savior of the World.
“[Mary] gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Lk 2:6f.) … This was the moment that Israel had been awaiting for centuries, through many dark hours – the moment that all mankind was somehow awaiting … : when God would take care of us, when he would step outside his concealment, when the world would be saved and God would renew all things. We can imagine the kind of interior preparation, the kind of love with which Mary approached that hour. The brief phrase: ‘She wrapped him in swaddling clothes’ allows us to glimpse something of the holy joy and the silent zeal of that preparation. The swaddling clothes were ready, so that the child could be given a fitting welcome. Yet there is no room at the inn. In some way, mankind is awaiting God, waiting for him to draw near. But when the moment comes, there is no room for him. Man is so preoccupied with himself, he has such urgent need of all the space and all the time for his own things, that nothing remains for others – for his neighbor, for the poor, for God. And the richer men become, the more they fill up all the space by themselves. And the less room there is for others.”
Merry Christmas! Christ is born! Come let us adore Him!