The Church proclaims that our salvation begins with the Annunciation, celebrated on March 25th. With Mary's "Be it done to me according to your word" (Lk 1:38a, DRE), our salvation is upon us. No wonder, then, that Jesus so often preaches that the "Kingdom of Heaven is at hand" (Matt 4:17, DRE). He is the Kingdom of Heaven; His entire life, from the moment of His conception to His ascension is our salvation. The Resurrection carries such import because it is the Good News that what the Son of God does once, He has always and will always do. Thus, His entire life is one cloth, without beginning and without end: He rises from the dead and returns to the right hand of the Father because He reveals that this is Who God has always been.
We might then puzzle over why we celebrate His birth. After all, is not the real paydirt at the foot of the Cross or on the doorstep of the empty tomb? Why the dirt of a cavern stable in Bethlehem?
Bethlehem is where the veil is torn.
Being the very Body of the resurrected Christ in the world and for the world, the Church celebrates the drama of the Christ by stretching the garment across the cycles of the year. Think it no accident that the Annunciation is celebrated on the heels of the Spring Equinox, when the day and night are balanced, and the light is waxing stronger.*
Jesus comes in the "fullness of time" (Gal 4:4, DRE), when the world seemingly needs no salvation. But, as always, the light wanes, hopes fade, the harvest is over; perhaps this time the darkness will overcome the light.
So, at the Winter Solstice, when the light is at its dimmest, we see in the Manger that God has been with us all along—even as our hopes are fading, even as our brightest aspirations are snuffed out, even as our most furtive efforts are frozen in the frost.
What was announced to the Blessed Virgin, what was visited by Mary to Elizabeth, what was dreamt of by Saint Joseph, what was cradled by Simeon, and gifted by the Magi is, at Bethlehem, revealed to the world.
What pauses us at Christmas is that the veil is already torn.
It is a done deal. We cannot foresee how it will happen, but the child in the Manger is the substance of what we now know we were never crazy to hope for.
The siege has ended.
In tearing open presents at Christmas, we celebrate that the sin-imposed veil over man's embrace of God is torn as surely as the Christ's burial shroud lays in a useless heap in the empty tomb.
May your last days of Advent be filled with this substantial reason to hope.
[*Pax, please, my brothers and sisters in the Southern Hemisphere; the Church is telling a parable here, and the Church was birthed in the Northern Hemisphere. Like all parables, it must ultimately show itself to be only like the Reality it figures. Even in the Southern Hemisphere, the point of the parable is valid.]