Exactly nine months before Christmas Day we celebrated the visit of an angel to a virgin in Nazareth. That young girl was quite unknown to the great and the good of this world, but the angel delivered to her a message which offered the fulfilment of all the promises of the Old Testament and of every noble human aspiration.
The young virgin was free to say no. She might have protested that she was not worthy, in which case we might well have commended her modesty. Thank God for us, though, she did not say no. In perfect faith and humility she trusted in God and she said yes, and it is thanks to her “fiat” that the Church on earth gathers together on Christmas Day to celebrate an event even more wonderful than the Annunciation.
In that moment that the virgin said yes, the promised child was conceived in her womb, and over the following nine months an embryo developed and grew in the same way as any human foetus. But the Child that was born on Christmas Day was no ordinary child. That Child was God made man, in the universe-changing miracle of the Incarnation.
Just as that divinely begotten embryo had developed and grown in a mother’s womb like any human life, so the Christ Child, like unto us in all things but sin, would grow to maturity much like any human child. Most of His early life was passed in obscurity, but the Gospel of St Luke tells us that during those years living with His parents “Jesus advanced in wisdom and age, and grace with God and men”.
Eventually the child would mature through adolescence into adulthood. And when, at last, the divine identity of this man was manifested to the world, it was as if the world could not abide the magnitude of such a truth. The religious powers of the day conspired successfully to have Him killed.
The Crucifixion, however, failed to halt that process of growth that had begun at the moment when the Blessed Virgin of Nazareth said yes to the angel. Indeed, with His Resurrection and Ascension into heaven, that increase had only really just begun. Following Pentecost, Christ in His Church began to fill the whole world, until His divine presence was brought to every continent, filling the planet with the blazing light of the Gospel. On altars at Holy Mass, the Word would become flesh in every generation and in every corner of the globe.
It might seem that this presence is in danger of diminishing in our era. In the land we call holy because its soil was sanctified by the footsteps of the Incarnate Word, the life of Christians becomes increasingly unsustainable, while in other parts of the Middle East sanctuaries and tabernacles stand defiled in towns where Christians had worshipped since the earliest days of the faith. Closer to home, our excellent Catholic adoption agencies have already been closed owing to pressure from secularist forces, and our schools could conceivably become the next victims to be sacrificed on the altars of political correctness.
Within the Catholic community, meanwhile, an existing crisis of credibility caused by betrayals of trust and abuse of authority can only be compounded for years to come if the culture of political spin that has blighted public life in recent decades is allowed to take root in the Church.
The Gospel appointed for Christmas Day should give us great courage. St John warns us that from the very beginning the light that is Christ was surrounded by swirling clouds of darkness, but the darkness did not and could not comprehend it. The darkness has been trying its hardest to smother that light ever since, but never will.
The Christ Child we worship at the crib and consume at the altar has given His guarantee that the gates of hell will not prevail. He issues a vocation to each of us, and He enunciates that call as clearly today as He has in every generation. He invites us to welcome Him into our lives, so that with the Prince of Peace enthroned in our hearts, His light will shine in and through us like a beacon in the darkness.
Like the virgin in Nazareth, we should say yes. If we are to flourish as individuals, and to realise the potential for growth and maturity which God sees in us, then we have to dethrone the ego and enthrone the Christ Child. Allow Him to take possession of us so that we may become what God created us to be. That way we shall play our part in dispelling the shadows of darkness that threaten to engulf the light, and we shall advance in wisdom and in grace with God.
Fr Julian Large Cong Orat is Provost of the London Oratory