Saturday, December 12, 2015

The beginning, of everything

Christmas, at least in the West, is primarily and preeminently the children’s holiday. This is not a bad thing, and it developed naturally from the Nativity story itself—a Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger for there was no room at the inn, and three kings bringing gifts, and the star, and the angels. If there must be myths, let them all be like this. But what if this is not just a myth, but history?

The children’s holiday, overlaid by generations of customs and lauded in story and song, told and retold, sung season after season, acted and reenacted, turning children into grownups, and changing grown men and women back into babes. Yes, we cannot enter the Kingdom unless we become like ‘one of these,’ says Christ pointing to the toddler in His lap who would later grow up to be the bishop-martyr Ignatios of Antioch. And then, there’s the magic of gifts.

Yes, the magic. Was it ordained so, because it was the magi, initiates into the sacred mysteries and wisemen, kings in metaphor if not in power, that migrated with the star to lay their treasures before the Throne of straw whereon lay the King of Ages? Blessed are the children for whom this holiday still shines bright in the night of this world, inciting them to faith, hope, and love, not enticing them with lust for toys which pass away.

Yet, toys are not themselves an evil, but a great good, if they raise children step by step in their gradual ascent to maturity, learning to be then what they play now. A great secret is, that the child within us who have made that journey is still, and always will be, alive—that is, if we continue to believe. Believe in what? Believe in Santa? Or Christ? Well, yes… and yes. To believe in the first is the beginning of belief in the Second.

Father Christmas, Santa Claus, Saint Nicholas: all these personages in the various cultures represent the magic of believing for children. They were not ready-made by marketing managers of the toy industry. They evolved over time, each gathering Christmas traditions which, again, need not divert us from ‘the true meaning of Christmas’ any more than we let them. It’s thinly disguised humbug to disenchant children with historical lectures about ‘the real Saint Nicholas.’

For what is it we’re after? What do we yearn for? Is it a man-pleasing orthodoxy that squelches the seeds of childlike faith, not trusting the heavenly Father to lead His children? (Not ours, mind you—we are only guardians, and then, their brothers and sisters, co-heirs of salvation.) If we are loving and gentle, He can work wonders through us. Isn’t it, shouldn’t it be, not what but Whom we yearn for? And if this is true, then…

We find ourselves engulfed in the light of the Nativity of the Son of God, in the company of the myriads of angels and the saints gathered for the Festival, all of us as joyful and as merry as we could ever wish, and as carefree and happy as the children we find ourselves to be, our arms laden with gifts we thought we were bringing to the Christ Child, but which we now know were His gifts to us, and best of all, we realise at last that we are now Home, and that we never need leave again.

And this is not the end, but the beginning, of everything we have always wanted and hoped for.

Christ is born! Glorify Him!

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