The temptation to expect each Christmas to be a reprise of storybook models, reality-free, where innocence is spared the inevitable confrontation with the mystery of evil is less likely to hit us this year. As the day approaches, we adults customarily form a little pact between our children and the child within us to once again go back to “the way Christmas was.” Such reveries may be soothing even if they have little to do with the first Christmas or with what is going on in life today.
Christmas is good news for those who want to be blessed and holy, bad news for those who do not. The divine response to hate and violence, whether from the Evil One himself or his angelic or human surrogates, is defeated by the immunizing power of the all-forgiving love that Christ’s Cross delivers to the human race. The birth is itself the assurance that deliverance itself has arrived on Earth and is only now shortly to be completed. Mary and Joseph are quickly drawn into this mystery through early events in the life of Christ. With graciousness and humility, they exemplify the ultimate Advent spirit of watchful waiting and trust in God’s faithfulness to His promises, as Mary’s Magnificat proclaims from the heart.
This immunization is the lethal blow that Jesus would deal to death itself – through His death – though that is only hinted at in the early days of His life. It is the awareness, however, that this child, Mary’s baby, would be splayed on a bloody Cross of pain and suffering for all of humanity’s sins, die because of them and then rise three days later, that gives us the hope and courage to celebrate Christmas without rancor or disillusionment from our world-weariness. The broken world is still the world God loves.
Lurid displays of the toxic reality of evil in the world still shock the contemporary conscience, so often deluded by the notion that by “understanding” it, or isolating and treating it, or by somehow disarming it through really smart legislative bans, we will contain or even subdue it. Most Christians are inclined to support well-reasoned, morally grounded and workable measures that propose to reduce any and all acts of violence. One of the greatest weapons against violence; however, perhaps the greatest is the gift of forgiveness.
Forgiveness always means self-sacrificing love. The one who forgives not only cancels out the debt that is owed by the damage inflicted but actually absorbs the pain caused by the same damage by letting it die within. It is like being wounded twice: once for not having deserved the injury, next for not paying back in kind. This, of course, is the sign of the Cross. It is also the only way to have peace in the heart so that violence can die there before it is born.
Only God knows what motivates the twisted minds of the homicidal, be they unknown opportunists in a city street or a quiet country schoolhouse. We are all vulnerable to what we do not have control of and evil has ways of oozing out even in paradise as the progeny of Adam and Eve might know from experience.
Reflecting on the heart of Mary who surely contemplated both the goodness, kindness and mercy of her Son as well as the mystery of evil which sought to destroy Him from the start, gives us a safe space this Christmas to contain both the joy of our Christian hope and the sorrow caused by sin – ours and that of others. As we thank God for our spouses, children and grandchildren, nephews and nieces, brothers and sisters, and friends, our Christmas prayer would be that through us none would ever draw a reason to give birth to evil or violence – only gratitude for being loved and forgiven.