Perhaps because of our culture’s needs, and because of the season’s profound appeal to the imaginations of children, the celebration of Christmas enjoys a unique character as an experience of mystery - perhaps even more so than the primary Christian feast of Easter. Many people may refer to the “mystery” of Christmas, perhaps meaning sentimental thoughts about this time of the year. Yet Christian writers have always used this term in relation to the deeper realities of the feast. This would be, of course, the mystery of the incarnation. Why would God bother to send his son into this world of ours that so often doesn’t seem to care one way or the other?
I recently came upon the Christmas reflections of two famous Catholic writers. The first is Thomas Merton, contemplative Trappist monk, peace activist and author who died in 1968. He writes, “Christ is born. He is born to us. And, he is born today. For Christmas is not merely a day like every other day. It is a day made holy and special by a sacred mystery. It is not merely another day in the weary round of time. Today, eternity enters into time, and time, sanctified, is caught up into eternity. Today, Christ, the Eternal Word of the Father, who was in the beginning with the Father, in whom all things were made, by whom all things consist, enters into the world which he created in order to reclaim souls who had forgotten their identity.”
The late Andrew Greeley, priest, sociologist, and prolific author, also addresses Christmas as mystery in one of his articles. He writes, “At this time of the year we plunge deep into mystery. Remove the trees and the lights and the gifts and carols and the cards, and Christmas is about mystery. It is a burst of light in the midst of darkness. But mystery only becomes deeper and darker. As many scientists say, the more we know the more we know that we don't know.... This time of Christmas is about the mother and the child. The illumination of Christmas is love, the love the mother has for her child and the love the child has for his mother…
“What could be more unexceptional than a mother with a new born baby? Why would God use such a commonplace image to offer an explanation of what everything is all about? It seems too good to be true. Yet, it might be the sort of sign that God would relish… If the marvel of human birth and the love between child and mother are a hint of an explanation, then that is very good news indeed. We would witness at the crib an illumination as bright as the big bang, however low key it may seem. But the mystery remains and seems deeper than ever. If God really is love, then why do so many things seem to grow wrong? Why must an Iraqi child die? Why must any child die? Why must we all die someday? Why does love so often end? The believer clings to the crib scene in fear and trembling, the non-believer dismisses it all as a hoax. Mystery, however, remains.”