Arts and Culture

Surrounded by the Grace of God’s Love

by Father Robert Lauder

AS ADVENT WINDS down, I imagine all of us, in different ways, look forward to the great feast of Christmas. There is a sense in which every time we pray, we are celebrating the feast of Christmas because all our prayers unite us with the Incarnate God. Still, I think it is more than appropriate that every year we dedicate one day to the explicit observance of God’s love for us revealed through the Incarnation of the Father’s Son. In observing and celebrating Christmas, our faith and hope should be active and give direction and meaning to what we are doing.

The Danish existentialist Soren Kierkegaard said that the Incarnation is the crucifixion of the intellect. I imagine what Kierkegaard meant was that the Incarnation is a great mystery, that we will never understand completely how the Son of God can be human. However, though we will never understand the Incarnation completely, the feast of the Incarnation provides a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the mystery more deeply and to celebrate it more lovingly and gratefully.

A few years ago, Commonweal magazine printed an excellent essay titled, “An Unimaginable Intimacy” (Aug. 12, 2011). The author, John Garvey, wrote the following:

“The love shown in the Trinity and the Incarnation has to do not only with God’s love for humanity but with God’s love for all creation, for every atom of it. The love shown in the kenosis, the self-emptying of the Word become flesh (to combine Paul and John here), applies to all the universe. When we think of love, we think of what we can make of love as we have encountered it – paternal or fraternal, the love of husband and wife, the self-sacrificing love of friends – but all this is not close, or is comparable only in a crude way, to ‘the love that moves the sun and the other stars,’ in Dante’s wonderful words. We can only occasionally catch a glimpse of it in these other loves … Love, in whatever way we encounter it, does offer us a clue, but a willingness to be silent before the mystery gets us closer….

“The fullness of what Incarnation means is closed to us, and our minds are incapable of taking it all in.”

I think that we can get a glimpse of God’s love wherever we encounter love among humans. We need all the signs of love we can get, and all love, even if we only have a glimpse of it, can point toward God. Garvey is right to note that any love we experience is a very small love in relation to the breathtaking love that God has for creation. But since all love is related to God’s love – and we can only love because God has first loved us and given us the capacity to love – we should appreciate the signs of the divine that all loves are when we encounter them.

Hearing God in the Silence

I do agree with Garvey that the mystery of the Incarnation is so awesome, so mind-boggling, so wonderful, so beyond our wildest dreams, desires and imaginings that we might be able to appreciate it more in silence than by making comparisons between human loves and the love that Father and Son have for us. As Advent progressed, I tried to follow Garvey’s suggestion in some of my daily praying. I think that Garvey is correct in suggesting that perhaps silence provides a special way to appreciate “the love that moves the sun and the other stars.” My own experience of being silent before God has provided for me strong evidence that when we are silent we may “hear” God.

As this Christmas drew nearer, all sorts of memories of my mother, father and sister have come back to me. A special Christmas blessing has been that all the memories that have returned have been like graces, gifts from God. This Christmas Eve, as I do every Christmas Eve, I will celebrate a home Mass with friends and then a meal and much joyful sharing.

I have come to believe that even celebrations of Christmas – such as some holiday songs, the reading of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” gift exchanges and other activities that don’t seem to be explicitly related to the Christian meaning of Christmas – have a place in the holiday season. The meaning and mystery of Christmas is sufficiently broad and deep to include all of them.

Sincere wishes for a wonderful celebration of Christmas!

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