The Seventh Day of Christmas. The Peril of Christmas.
The Peril of Christmas, by Father Leonidas Contos
If we make the small effort to translate ourselves into the times which knew the historical Jesus, we are startled to discover how like our own times they were. Certainly it was not an age of peace. Like ours it was one of the oppressive tension and anxiety. In the heart of the Jew there was always expectation, even hope, but these lived side by side with despair. The standards of an immense power threw long, ominous shadows wherever they marched, over most of the charted earth. And so the Prince of Peace broke into history to challenge the sovereignty of the Caesars, whose handmaidens were the sly and the cruel, the unprincipled and the power-hungry.
How incongruous that this boy baby should have been born when he was! What a marvelous sense of irony God has! For in this child, born of country folk on a chill December night, God was stating His claim on a world going rotten. He was offering to it that healing grace that would reclaim it to wholeness. Only the passing of time has made such divine “foolishness” seem rational—the gentle Christ thrown against the staggering power of Caesar; a man talking from a hillside drowned out by the clatter of the Roman legions.
But there remains a certain peril in Christmas; a subtle but real danger. Nothing can be more touching, nothing so universally moving, than the birth of a child. And so the image of the gentle Christ child has enchanted the generations—the still night, the strange star, the sounds of the barn animals rustling for warmth, the radiant face of the weary but happy mother. All of us cherish Bethlehem. And yet, Bethlehem is a dangerous place for Christians because this is where the real contest begins between Caesar and Christ. This is where most people lose the real Jesus.
Emotionally all of us flock to Bethlehem. Not so many follow to Nazareth, Capernaum, Jericho. Fewer yet into the solitude of the Galilean hills. Still fewer into the electric atmosphere of Jerusalem. To Calvary almost none. At each stage of the way it becomes more uncomfortable. And while the baby in the manger is as clear as a picture—for it is little more than that—the Christ of agonized manhood fits ill in our scheme of things. How often He even goes unrecognized! But Christmas forces the issue, and presses the question: is this the Christ in whom God came to dwell, the whole Christ—child, and man, and God? Or is it only the Bethlehem Christ, sweet and soft and undemanding; a Christ who has been adjusted to our own requirements; an easy-to-live-with Christ? And where the baby Jesus, helpless and beautiful in his infant innocence opens up our hearts, the man Jesus—mysterious, uncompromising—finds them guarded, reluctant. Let God intersect human history, but must he intrude on our personal lives?
You can see why Christmas is perilous journey. For it is the disclosure that Christ has come: not so much to claim even as to be claimed, not so much to seek as to be sought, not so much to know as to be known. You will also remember that, their purpose accomplished, the Wise Men were told to leave Bethlehem by another way. We too must return by a different road. If we have come to our usual commemorative Christmas in a frenzy of spending and giving and getting, there has to be a better way back. If we have come still burdened with our unreasoning hates and prejudices…then we must look for another way back. [For just as] the Wise Men had a sign to guide them…in their quest of Christ…. In our day there are equally unmistakable signs that ought to prompt us anew, and guide us afresh, to the discovery of the redeeming Christ.
~Adapted from Father Leonidas Contos, In Season and Out of Season: Sermons by Father Leonidas Contos