16 December 2019, The Tablet

Christmas – a time for the heart

Christmas – a time for the heart

Figurines designed by U.S. artist Susan Lordi of Willow Tree sculptures.
CNS photo, Nancy Wiechec


In his apostolic letter, Admirabile signum, encouraging Christians to continue the tradition of Christmas cribs, Pope Francis invites us to recover the wonder children feel when they see the nativity scene and let the symbolism of the different characters speak not only to our minds but to our hearts

Year after year, I am mesmerised by the Christmas lights in central London. Caught in the frenzy of the Christmas shopping, surrounded by busy crowds in some of the busiest streets in the world, I find relief in lifting up my eyes and enjoying the sight of a row of giant and unflustered shimmering angels. They are the only characters in the nativity scene that survive in secular festive iconography and confer a veneer of spirituality to our Christmas celebration. Mary, Joseph and the baby are gone. It is as if, once again, “there is no room for them in the inn”, no room for them in what Christmas has become for most of us.

There is an ambivalence concerning the presence of the angels in the pages of the Gospel that describe the birth of the Messiah. They shine with glory but those who see them are terrified. There is a striking contrast between the thunderous sound of the heavenly hosts singing the glory of God and the subdued scene awaiting the shepherds in the barn where they find a couple hovering over a baby who lays in a manger. The shepherds are not disappointed, however: it is precisely in the helplessness of this infant that they recognise their Lord.

Of course, the angels of our Christmas decorations do not cause us any fear. Just like the shepherds, however, we can struggle to come to terms with God’s chosen way of visiting us in the middle of our restless undertakings. The only way to recognise God in the unimaginable way in which he presents himself to us is embarking on a journey, just as the Magi and the shepherds did. We will know for sure that we have met the God described in the nativity scene only when instead of fear, guilt and anxiety we will experience joy and peace.

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