©2009, Randall A. Beeler
14 For while all things were in quiet silence, and the night was in the midst of her course, 15 your Almighty word leaped down from heaven from your royal throne, as a fierce conqueror into the midst of the land of destruction (Wis 18, DRE)
4 But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent his Son, made of a woman, made under the law (Gal 4, DRE)
For it was a cave used as a stable by the mountaineers of the uplands about Bethlehem; who still drive their cattle into such holes and caverns at night. It was here that a homeless couple had crept underground with the cattle when the doors of the crowded caravansaries had been shut in their faces; and it was here beneath the very feet of the passers-by, in a cellar under the very floor of the world, that Jesus Christ was born.
(G. K. Chesterton, from The Everlasting Man)
God reveals Himself as Emmanuel, "God-with-us," at a time when the world appears to least need Him. Rome has conquered and united East and West. Humankind has reached its peak, as recounted in Virgil's Aeneid:
No foe, unpunish'd, in the fighting field
Shall dare thee, foot to foot, with sword and shield;
Much less in arms oppose thy matchless force,
When thy sharp spurs shall urge thy foaming horse. (VI)
But the vision given by Anchises to Aeneas is doomed to frustration: when Rome has all the earth, has attained all things, what then? Even as Aeneas, at the end of The Aeneid, fails the pax Romana, the Roman vision of peace and world order, and plunges his sword into Turnus (XII), so Rome wins the world only to find that the world is not enough:
25 For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world and lose himself and cast away himself? (Lk 9:25)
Christ comes in "the fullness of time"—the nick of time, the time when the world is most tired of itself, even before it knows it is tired of itself. Herod and all Jerusalem tremble, Magi trek from far reaches, Caesar tries to make his world account for itself in a massive census. At the height of its business, activity, and initiative, the world cannot pause itself.
Christ pauses us, and the heavens follow:
O ye beneath life's crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow;
Look now, for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
Oh rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing.
("It Came Upon A Midnight Clear")
Even now, though, we hasten away Christ. Already we see Christmas trees, still green, heaped with the garbage on trash day. The stores display Super Bowl snacks, Valentine's Day candy, and Presidents Day regalia on the shelves. Accountants are braced to tabulate taxes and the first-quarter retail let-down. The Christmas is fairy tale is quaint, the world tells us, but we must get back to the real world of grind, grunt, and groan.
The Church celebrates Candlemas, on February 2nd, as the close of the Christmas Season; it marks the day on which Mary, according to the Law, makes a sacrifice at the Temple, for Her purification (Lk 2:22-24). The world trades Simeon's blessing (Lk 2:34) for Groundhog Day, desperately hoping that we can cheat Winter out of its six-weeks reign. Like Bill Murray's character (Phil Conners) in the movie, Groundhog Day, we despair that our lives are an endless repetition of gaining the world, gaining the world, gaining the world … only to lose our very souls.
We are Phil Conners—we love (philo) to "con" ourselves into trying to conquer the cold of the death, the Winter of the world: if we just try it again, just one more time, we'll get it right.
Thank God that the Christ Child waits for us. Every day—not just Christmas Day—the shepherds and kings step out of their rutted paths to pause at a wonder. What God does once, God does forever, for God is eternal. Therefore, as His Resurrection is eternal, so is His Incarnation eternal.
At each Daily Mass, the Church witnesses this reality to the world; as we kneel at the Consecration, as we step forward to receive the Eucharist, we again receive the Christ Child. Every day is Christmas, and every human heart is the Manger. Christmas never ends.
How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him still,
The dear Christ enters in.
("O Little Town of Bethlehem")