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Monday, December 24, 2012

12-25-2012 Surprises in a Cave

Christmas forces us to rethink things, to reconsider the most basic things. Maybe what makes it so amazing is how simple the story is, even though it has its paradoxes.
One of my favorite authors is G.K. Chesterton. In his work The Everlasting Man he recalls that the mystery of Christmas surprises us from behind, in ways we would never have expected. It is as if, Chesterton says, man had found an inner room in the very heart of his house, which he had never suspected, and seen a light from within. It is as if he found something in the back of his heart that betrayed Him into good.
On Christmas, God draws close, but He also hides. He comes right up to you, but almost always just out of your vision. He shows us so much of Himself, but never everything. This is why God wasn't born in Jerusalem, in the temple, on a mountain. No, he was born in Bethlehem (well, actually outside of the city) in a cave used as a stable.
The infinite God - eternal, all knowing, who every moment holds the entire universe in its place - cannot hold up His own head. He who cannot be caught, He cannot be controlled, He cannot be subdued – has his arms wrapped up by His mother Mary. The one who created the drama of history steps into it as a character, the hero of the story.
The cave of Christ's Nativity, being born in a sense underground, shows us how humble Jesus is. He is a man for everyone. But the cave shows us much more, according to Chesterton. The cave helps us to see that everything we had thought about the universe turns inside out, that theology is put on its head. The cave represents darkness and coldness, the sorrowful state of humanity after centuries of sinfulness – there comes Christ with the light of his truth and the warmth of his loving forgiveness.
But the cave also symbolizes protection and privacy from the dangers of the world. For Chesterton, the cave is a stronghold, a fortress. He says we announce peace on earth because of a war in heaven. The victory of that war is foreshadowed here in the cave, which is the bookend to the Gospel: the empty tomb hewn out of the rock, where the battle is won. For Chesterton, the wooden manger is fulfilled in the wood of the Cross, that he pictures as the sword of heaven driving the mortal blow into the earthly reign of sin. And the spoils of war are a relationship with that God, a love affair with Him forever in heaven.
Yes for Chesterton, Christmas is a revolution and the cave an outpost in a battlefield for humanity. Do we ourselves join in this battle? Do we struggle like the early Christians who found themselves so often in the caves of the catacombs?
Lastly, that cave is the Church. We come to the Church to find that God is so very close to us, yet He continues to conceal His mystery. We come to church to wonder at the paradoxes of our faith. We come to Church to remember that God is a humble God, a God for everyone, even our sinful selves. We come to the church to find protection from the dangers of this world. Here God surrounds us with His infinite strength. We come to the Church to find ourselves in a stronghold in the midst of the great battle of good and evil that continues in our souls.
We come to Church to find Jesus, to find God. We find Jesus in unexpected ways. He surprises us with Himself, and yet he continues to elude our grasp. He allures us. Do not be afraid to let Him close. Let yourself be drawn into that cave. Let yourself be wooed by the Lord of Heaven and Earth who fought the war you could not win, and who invites you to share the joys of victory in Heaven, in this Mass, in the Eucharist.

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