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Christmas: moving downwards

A Yazidi mother and child in a refugee camp in Kurdistan, Iraq. Photo: Shutterstock.com

A Yazidi mother and child in a refugee camp in Kurdistan, Iraq. Photo: Shutterstock.com

Christmas challenges us to move down. As Ron Rolheiser puts it, Christmas invites us to investigate the small, to de­scend. Because this is what God did in the Incarnation. He emptied Himself, taking on the form of a slave. He became small, a helpless baby.

No wonder it has become extremely difficult for most of us to grasp the true meaning of Christmas. We are constantly bombarded with messages enticing us to ascend. Our demanding ego persistently yearns for ambition, achievement and admiration. We often filter our selfies before posting them online and repetitively check our wall to view the number of likes we receive. We are disappointed or offended when nobody appreciates or, at least, acknowledges our efforts and projects.

We are rarely satisfied with what we have and often wish to achieve and gain more. We demolish our already-large houses to build higher buildings with several apartments. Day in, day out, we are barraged by countless political slogans and adverts restlessly enticing us to aim higher, grow bigger, become richer.

And then Christmas comes along and reminds us that in Jesus Christ, God’s movement is downwards. Lying in a manger, Baby Jesus invites us to enter the experience of powerlessness, to embrace it as part of our life and explore what riches can be found in it. In His poverty, He proclaims that our experience of powerlessness is a privileged avenue in our quest to know God and our own soul.

Indeed, Baby Jesus is no cute baby to be simply displayed. He is a challenging baby. In emptying Himself and becoming a defenceless baby, Christ invites us, again to quote Rolheiser, to be free of the tyranny of ambition and achievement, and to stop measuring our meaning and success by what gives us upward mobility. He challenges us to empty ourselves and assume the powerlessness of the poor.

In emptying Himself and becoming a defenceless baby, Christ invites us to be free of the tyranny of ambition and achievement, and to stop measuring our meaning and success by what gives us upward mobility

In his Midnight Mass homily in 2016, Pope Benedict XVI shared the following words: “God’s sign is simplicity. God’s sign is the baby. God’s sign is that He makes Himself small for us. This is how He reigns. He does not come with power and outward splendour. He comes as a baby – defenceless and in need of our help. He does not want to overwhelm us with His strength. He takes away our fear of His greatness.”

St George Preca – who can easily be described as the ‘Saint of the Incarnation’ – was also fascinated with this truth. In The School of Bethlehem, he wrote that through His birth as Christ, the true God who has absolute dominion over all creation, deigned to humble Himself in a way, that the children of Adam and Eve, whom He had formed from the dust of the earth, could consider Him as one of their brothers. For Preca, the mystery of Christmas enchants all those who take it seriously, since it reveals Jesus as the divine King who takes on the form of a slave, in order to die for the true slave.

Yes, Christmas challenges us to move downwards. Maybe, as Rolheiser also says, we all know this theoretically but we find it hard to do it in practice because usually we look the other way.

Indeed, even when we look for God, we tend to look towards the sky, we investigate the powerful, we try to ascend. Christmas invites us to look and travel downwards. After all, we all know that unless we become like little children (like the baby of Bethlehem?) we will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

Fr Kevin Schembri is a lecturer at the Faculty of Theology and a member of staff at the Ecclesiastical Tribunal.

kevinschembri@yahoo.com

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