GK Chesterton was a prolific English writer and a famous convert from Anglicanism to the Catholic faith whose life spanned the 19th and 20th centuries. In his book “The Everlasting Man” he presents a whole view of world history as informed by the Incarnation. Beginning with the origin of man and the various religious attitudes throughout history, Chesterton shows how the fulfillment of all of man’s desires takes place in the person of Jesus Christ and in Christ’s Church.
Christianity, he says, is no myth, nor can it be compared with any other religion for, unlike other religions, it unites the world of the spiritual with the material, without confusing the two. It unites Creator and creature. Creator and creature are no longer separated but made one.
He speaks of the first men who, it is supposed, lived in caves. These cavemen painted images of creatures and scenes of nature on the walls of their caves. And at the dawn of the re-creation of humanity, the New Man dwelt in a cave at Bethlehem. Much is made of the stable and the manger, but tradition tells us that the nativity of Christ took place in one of the many hillside caves near Bethlehem where shepherds used to shelter. You can visit these caves today. The one where Jesus was born has a huge Church built over it and you must descend below ground, to the crypt, to visit it.
Chesterton describes how a homeless couple crept underground among animals to find a place to shelter. It was in the cellar, on the very floor of the world, where the Savior Christ was to be born. Christ was born not only on the level of the world but below the level of the world, on a dark and sunken stage rather than on a stage visible to the world.
So God becomes a caveman. But the pictures he drew of mankind made in God’s image and likeness came to life again, unlike the images painted by the original cavemen that remained lifeless on the walls on which they were painted.
In this cave we contemplate a baby, whose unknown strength sustains the stars. We contemplate the paradox of the omnipotence of God united with the impotence of a baby. We marvel at the unity of the timeless and eternal divinity with the infancy that is destined to grow and mature and to die in time. Bethlehem, says Chesterton, is a place where extremes meet.
But in that place of extremes, in a cave below the level of the earth, a few shepherds discover what they had been searching for, the fulfillment of all their hopes and desires. In the Child, the shepherds find their Shepherd.
And now the cribs or crèches or nativity scenes, or the nativity plays performed in our schools and in fields and theatres around the world present the shepherds not in the costumes of those shepherds of Bethlehem 2,000 years ago but in the diverse costumes of all the different nations of the world, with the actors speaking in their own diverse accents, manifesting the truly Catholic and universal scope of this momentous birth.
According to Dom Hugh Gilbert, Abbot of Pluscarden Abbey in Scotland, the love of God in the incarnation is “over-whelming, mind-blowing, heart-ravishing”. The prophet Isaiah says: “Like a young man marrying a virgin, so will the one who built you wed you. As the bridegroom rejoices in his bride, so will your God rejoice in you.” (Is 62:5) So much does God want to be one with you and with all mankind. Abbot Gilbert continues:
This is love than which no greater can be conceived. There is a being, God, who is completely, infinitely, eternally, unassailably happy, blessed, joyful, in his own Trinitarian life. This Being decides, out of love, to create other, finite beings outside itself, centrally man, in order to share its happiness with them. And when it does this, it does it to the maximum conceivable, even though or even because, the human creature has refused the love. One of the Trinity in order to connect to each and every man takes to himself an individual human nature in a marriage than which there is no closer nor more intimate. Humanity is part of the Trinity: indissolubly and forever. By taking a human nature to himself, the Son of God has united himself in a certain way to every human being. Christ is part of every human’s humanity, more me than I am. Really, a clatter of genuflections at the Et incarnatus est hardly rises to the occasion! I only mention what most immediately astonishes me: this act of Incarnation, God marrying humanity. But then there’s the child, the teacher, the suffering One, the risen One, the One who gives the Spirit, the One who breaks the bread of his Body. They all speak the same love, and they are all, in the unity of his Person, one and the same, and present already at Christmas.Our celebration of Christmas must have consequences. We must know that this Child will grow up to challenge us. We are not disciples of His unless we take up our cross and follow Him. We do not love Him if we do not keep His commandments, if we do not honor him every day of our lives and keep the Sunday holy by attending Mass. Salvation will not be possible for us unless we “give up everything that does not lead to God, and all our worldly ambitions,” seeking to be “self-restrained and live good and religious lives here in this present world, while we wait in hope for the … appearing of” the glory of our Savior Jesus Christ at the end of time. (Titus 2:11-14)
The only possible knock-on effect – though heaven knows how many Christmases it takes to come to it – is (an) enlarged heart. The heart of the Trinity is large enough for all humanity… What is it, after all, that the Lord wants (of us)? ... a wider heart, a heart widened by the Christmas love. (Unfolding the Mystery, pp. 42-43)
By becoming a man, the Son of God has made us children, sons of God. Contemplating the Child in the cave should move us to truly desire to be children before God, obeying His will as Jesus Christ obeyed the will of the Father in coming to earth.
However, as Chesterton writes: we cannot visit the Child without visiting the Mother. We cannot have access to the Child without going through the Mother. The holiness of the two mingle and cannot be separated. May the Virgin Mother and Holy Joseph assist us in being similarly holy and one with Christ.
I wish you all a very Happy and a very Holy Christmas.