Christmas Day Mass
I think a fairly honest response to our readings is simply one of being overwhelmed. They offer a vision of reality which exceeds in time and scope the possibilities available to us. We are being told more than we can grasp or comprehend, like the workings of a sophisticated operation or machine, which only stuns and silences us. We don’t see what they see. Not like the stories and narratives of Luke which we heard at midnight mass. They sparked our imagination.
But the fact that we are stunned and silenced is not a bad thing. We are being warned that we are at a threshold, and entrance into a liminal space and time which are not bound by the constraints that give us orientation. This may be a little disorienting. If we begin to see what they see, it could mean a new look at ourselves. Most Orthodox churches have an iconostasis, a wall of icons which separate worshippers from the performance of the liturgy. It announces a threshold. It is a difference and separation which let the mystery, the holy and sacred, appear as they are. Silence and stillness are authentic responses to this experience. In the early 60’s, the guest section of this monastery was separated from that of the monks by a wall and gate normally covered by a curtain. You could hear the sounds of shuffling feet, books being moved or closed, swishes of the robes as monks moved. But much scope and freedom were left to the imagination. The readings evoke our imagination and the silence to be recreated by the imagination of God. They open a liminal space into which we are called to receive and accept the refulgence of his glory, the very imprint of his being, and who sustains all things by his mighty word. Our own cleverness and assertiveness are not most fertile ground for this reception. Silence, stillness, and humility soften our sensibility to receive this new imprint.
Literature, especially “children’s” literature, is comfortable with confronting us with the need to cross the threshold from the everyday to the mysterious. Alice in Wonderland, the Narnia stories of C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, and Harry Potter all have doors, closets, mirrors, and holes which are threatening and challenging invitations into another world. Taking the risk of entering them opens the door to life-changing adventure. The world of the normal must be shed before the new world appears. All the ends of the earth will behold the salvation of our God. Seeing the world differently requires that we become different ourselves.
It allows the holy and the mysterious to appear and for us to encounter them on their own terms. We can see differently because we imagine the world differently. Perhaps, as God imagines it.
The Lord came as an infant, one who does not speak. His humility was not a ploy to confuse, but the very revelation of what it means to receive your whole being from the Father. It was his very nature to receive the unmerited and excessive love of the Father. I will be a Father to him, and he shall be a son to me. Silence, simplicity of being, and humility are the expressions of God who has crossed the threshold of time and space to become incarnate in our world. In Christ, they are revealed as the image of God embodied in our world for those who have the eyes to see.