Thoughts on the Second Reading for Christmas Day

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In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways
to our ancestors through the prophets;
in these last days, He has spoken to us through the Son,
whom He made heir of all things
and through whom He created the universe,
who is the refulgence of His glory,
the very imprint of His being,
and who sustains all things by His mighty word.

Hebrews 1:2–3

These words, in all their beauty and power describe the  glory of the child born in Bethlehem, who while he lay in Mary’s arms is the Word of the Father, the means through which creation exists, the refulgence of God’s glory, the very imprint of God’s being. The shepherds came from  the east not to satisfy curiosity or to discuss the theology; they sought the child but to lay their precious gifts before Him and to worship. And ever since, through long centuries, it has been the privilege of the apostolic mission to testify to the truth that the child born in Bethlehem, whose birth we celebrate at Christmas, was not an ordinary child who through grace would come to share in the life of God, but that the child born of Mary in Bethlehem is indeed the one through whom God created the Universe, reflecting always God’s glory, sustaining the world as the eternal Word of God.   The child is He “Through whom He created the  Universe,” as John says, “All things were made through Him and without Him was not anything made that was made” (1:3).  He is the eternal Son of God, God’s very speech, existing from all eternity.  He was the one in the beginning, the Word through whom God spoke the Spirit who hovered over the face of the deep to bring, order, light, and the fulness of being, and who at this time and in this place, in the principate of Augustus, took human nature to himself, healing the chasm torn across creation when our first parents chose the serpent’s way.  And like the Magi we worship Him. 

That one displaying the refulgence of the Father was born into our world tells us something about that world in which we live and also tells us something about the son of God in His relation to our world.  First, it tells us that every piece of creation, from our bodies to the trees and sky, while these do not  share in the life of the Blessed Trinity–only the eternal Son is of one glorious substance with the Father—are each gifts of God, bearing the impress of His mighty hand, and in that way enjoying a derivative holiness.   This intuition of  God’s ownership and authorship is the warrant claimed by the romantic poets,  evident in Wordsworth’s “Lines composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey” (122–128):

                 This prayer I make, the heart that loved her; ’tis her privilege,
                 Through all the years of this our life, to lead
                 From joy to joy: for she can so inform
                 Knowing that Nature never did betray
                 The mind that is within us, so impress
                 With quietness and beauty, and so feed
                 With lofty thoughts.

This is what Gerard Manley Hopkins knew when he wrote that for all the irreverent damage men might do to God’s nature:

And for all this, nature is never spent:

          There lives the dearest freshness deep down things.

Poets echo with imagination the fact that Christ the Word is present in everything the human hand touches and in our hands themselves.   The worship of nature is one of those great mistakes that attests to a great truth gone awry, for the object of our worship must always be not the creature but the Creator.  Yet the fact of the presence of Christ in everything natural is a clue to how we should treat nature.  Because we see the beauty and order God has put in the world, while knowing that victory cannot be perfect until Christ returns, we should strive to overcome the natural evil that has plagued us since Eden, the fruits of sin issuing in death.  This is the work of priests, physicians, and teachers, always striving to replace disease and ignorance with holiness, health, and knowledge.   But beyond this is the necessity always to touch nature with love, not viewing the natural world as a scene of blank potentiality but as a work of Christ through whom all things were made.  His work is perfect, but humankind has the power to perfect creation guiding it toward the glory that lies within it, or to degrade it. Anyone reading this essay could catalogue those things that should never have been made.  So those with the power to make should ask, “Does what I’m about to do reflect the reality that everything belongs to God, given to humankind as a gift, bearing the stamp of His almighty hand, and should therefore be touched only with reverence.” 

And second,  seeing Christ in nature enables us to see Christ as He is.  As Saint Paul wrote, what can be known about God is evident, for 

          “Ever since the creation of the world His invisible nature, namely His                eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that               have been made” (Romans 1:20).

And what we see in nature is the work of one possessed of all the power and gracious goodness of the Father.   Miracles in themselves, although they can be believed and their deep reasonableness appreciated,  cannot  be explained,  nor can the great mysteries of creation, salvation, and the new creation  be explained.  We do not know why Jesus heals this blind man and turns this water into wine,   but the predicate of every supernatural act of our Lord is the fact that  everything that exists was made by Him.  He is inside nature, and the laws and rules for nature that we confess are mere effective metaphors in comparison with the informing knowledge possessed by the Son.    This fact should warn every believer away from modern atheism, the work of Enlightenment philosophers, which includes among its founding principles the belief that nature is merely natural.

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