The People of Christmas: Those Round the Crib

The Figures of Christmas

[Tegel Prison, Berlin, Christmas 1944]

Life with God and in God has its own laws and we cannot discover what they are from a reference book. Yet the conditions for their fulfillment are very straightforward and clear-cut—less obscure indeed than those of the ten commandments. All the same thin thread on which they depend, the thread which unites the personal Thou of God with the personal I of created being, can only be spun when they are being fulfilled…


Correggio_NativityChristmas is the mystery of the contact with God, fundamentally and actually. Those who are part of the approach to it can show us the human requirements, which will make it possible for man once more to converse with God, and the necessary conditions if we are to reestablish contact with him.


Three different kinds of approach are suggested by the Christmas mystery. First there is the historical sequence of events recalled by the feast; secondly there is the liturgical reconstruction of the mystery; and thirdly there is the silent, yet eloquent, participation of all present. Even the empty places have speech of their own and a message for us…


We are familiar with the crib figures inside the stable or making their way to it. And in that journey to the stable they have all have something significant to say to us about the mystery of life and the everyday world. Mary, Joseph, the angels, the shepherds, the wise men; these are the people gathered around the Christ child.


Mary. Let us put aside, for the moment, the venerated figure of the Blessed Virgin Mary as such. It would be impossible to discuss that holy figure in one short paragraph; as our Lady she is a theme with an endless and perpetual message. But let us here think of her as the young girl, Mary kneeling humbly before the manger in which lies the child she had just given us. She has her own message, a few words to offer us in the turmoil to which the estrangement between our benighted generation and the divine mystery has thrown us.


The fact that this night of nights brought forth the Light that Mary kneels before the Child, that motherhood and the grace of compassion have become a law of our life, that the ice of man’s inner solitude can be broken and melted by healing warmth—all this became possible only because the maid Mary yielded of her won free choice to the inner prompting of God’s voice. Her secret is self-surrender and willing acceptance, offering herself to the point of obliteration of personal will.


That is both Her message and Her judgment of us. As a generation we are completely wrapped up in ourselves; we are always concerned with our self-fulfillment, our self-realization, our living conditions and so one. Everything is organized for our self-gratification. And precisely because of this we are getting progressively poorer and more miserable. Mary’s decision was complete surrender to God and it is the only thing that can lead to human fulfillment. Hers is the decision that obeys the law of life.


1479038_189352637937545_1802085770_nJoseph. He is the man on the outskirts, standing in the shadows, silently waiting, there when wanted and always ready to help. He is the man in whose life God is constantly intervening with warnings and visions. Without complaint he allows his own plans to be set aside. His life is a succession of prophecies and dreams of setting up a quiet household, simply leading a decent home life and going about his everyday affairs, attending to his business and worshipping God and who, instead is condemned to a life of wandering. Beset with doubts, heavy-hearted and uneasy in his mind, his whole life disrupted, he has to take to the open road, to make his way through an unfriendly country finding no shelter but a miserable stable for those he holds most dear. He is the man who sets aside all thought of self and shoulders his responsibilities bravely—and obeys…


It is his message for us and his judgment of us. How proud and presumptuous and self-sufficient we are. We have crabbed and confined God within the pitiable limits of our obstinacy, our complacency, our opportunism, our mania for self-expression…


The wise men. Whether they were really kings or just local eastern chieftains or learned astronomers is not in the least important. Their hearts were filled with wisdom and the aspirations of their race and that is what really concerns us. Only men of the highest type could have undertaken such a journey for such a purpose. They brought all the longing of their people with them to the place of the encounter for its fulfillment. Through the desert, by way of royal palaces, the libraries of the learned and the counsel chambers of the priests—and they ended their journey at last at a manger in a poor stable…


Pieter-Bruegel-the-Younger-The-Adoration-of-the-Magi-in-the-SnowThe secret of these people is as plain as in the case of the shepherds. They are men with clear eyes that probe things to their very depths. They have a real hunger and thirst for knowledge. I know what that means now. They are capable at arriving at right decisions. They subordinate their lives to the end in view and they willingly journey to the ends of the earth in quest of knowledge, following a star, a sign, obeying an inner voice that would never have made itself heard but for their hunger and the intense alertness hunger produces…


What are we looking for anyway? And where will we find a genuine yearning so strong that neither fatigue, nor distance nor fear of the unknown nor loneliness nor ridicule will deter us? Only such a passionate desire can prompt the persistence, which is content to kneel even when the ultimate goal turns out to be a simple stable. Men capable of such dedication penetrate to the heart of things and understand why that should be the outcome…


[excerpt from The Prison Meditations of Father Delp]

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