The Simplicity of Christmas

Like the crib, the whole mystery of Christmas–Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem–is extremely simple, and because of this, it is accompanied by poverty and joy, and therefore not difficult to understand by those who have the eye of faith.

The crib is something very simple that all children easily understand. It may be composed of many different little figures of various sizes, but what is essential is that all of them somehow tend to and look at the same point: the hut where Mary and Joseph, together with the ass and the ox, await Jesus’ birth, to adore Him as soon as He is born.

Like the crib, the whole mystery of Christmas – Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem – is extremely simple, and because of this, it is accompanied by poverty and joy. It is not easy to explain how the three things go together. I will try to do it.

The Christmas mystery is certainly a mystery of being poor and becoming poor: Christ, rich as He was, made himself poor for our sake, in order to make Himself like us, for the love of us, and especially for the love of the poor.

Everything here is poor, simple, and humble, and because of this, it is not difficult to understand by those who have the eye of faith: the faith of children to whom the kingdom of God belongs. As Jesus said: “If your eye is sound, your whole body will be filled with light.” (Matthew, 6: 22) 

The simplicity of faith enlightens the whole life and makes us accept the great things of God. Faith is born by love; it is the new seeing capacity that comes from sensing that we are greatly loved by God.

We have the fruit of all this in the first letter of John the evangelist when he describes what must have been Mary and Joseph’s experience in the crib: “What we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands concerns the Word of life–for the life was made visible.” And all this has happened so that our joy may be perfect. Everything is therefore for our joy, for a full joy. (cf. 1 John 1: 1–3)

This joy did not belong only to Jesus’ contemporaries, but it belongs to us too: today, this Word of life makes Himself manifest and tangible in our daily life, in the neighbours to be loved, on the way of the Cross, in prayer and the Eucharist, especially in the Christmas Eucharist, and fills us with joy.

Poverty, simplicity, joy: they are simple words, elemental, but which we are afraid and almost ashamed of. It seems to us that perfect joy doesn’t sound right because there are so many things, we are worried about, so many wrongs, and unfair situations. How can we rejoice with true joy given such things?

Even simplicity doesn’t look right because there are so many things we distrust. It is complicated and difficult to understand, like so many of life’s puzzles. Of all these, how can we enjoy the gift of simplicity? As for poverty, isn’t it a condition we should fight against and eradicate from this earth?

Deep joy however doesn’t mean that we do not share the pain of injustice, world hunger, and the many sufferings of people. It simply means to trust God, to be aware that God knows all these, cares for us, and will raise in us and other people those gifts that history requires. In this way, the spirit of poverty is born: in trusting God. In Him, we can rejoice with full joy because we have touched the Word of life who heals every disease, destitution, injustice, and death.

If everything is somehow simple, then it should be also simple to believe in it. Nowadays, we often hear that to believe is difficult in such a world and that faith may sink in a sea of indifference and present relativism or be sidelined by the heated discussions about science, human condition, and cosmic reality. In such a world, we cannot deny that nowadays it may be more laborious to demonstrate the possibility of believing.

We must, however, remember St. Paul’s word: to believe, the heart and the mouth are necessary and enough. When our heart, moved by the touch of the Spirit who is given to us abundantly, (cf. Romans 5: 5; John 3: 34) believes that God has raised Jesus from the dead and the mouth pronounces His name, we are saved. (cf. Romans 10: 8–12) 

All the complications, all the deepening that sometimes confuse us, everything that was superimposed by western and eastern thinking and by theology and philosophy is useful for reflections. However, they should not make us forget that to believe is essentially simple: a gesture of the heart that takes the plunge and a word that proclaims, “Jesus is risen. Jesus is the Lord!”

It is such a simple act that it doesn’t distinguish between literate and illiterate, between people who have undergone a journey of purification or those who haven’t done it yet. The Lord is Lord of all, rich in love towards those who invoke His name.

We rightly try to deepen the mystery of faith, read it in all the pages of Scripture, decline it through ways that are sometimes complex. But faith, I say it again, is simple: it is an act of abandonment and trust. It will illumine all things and allow us to face the complexity of life without excessive worries or fears.

We don’t need much to believe. We need the gift that the Holy Spirit doesn’t allow our hearts to be without and, on our part, we need to pay attention to a few well-placed signs. Let us look at what happened at Jesus’ empty tomb. Mary Magdalene worriedly said, “They have taken away the Lord and we do not know where they have laid him”. 

Peter enters the tomb, sees the linen cloths lying and the napkin, which had been on Jesus’ head, rolled up in a place by itself, and still, he doesn’t understand. But the other disciple does understand, the one who was simpler and more intuitive, the one whom Jesus loved. He “saw and believed,” the Gospel says, because the little signs present in the tomb made certain that the Lord had risen. He did not need a theology treaty; he didn’t write thousands of pages about the event. He only saw the little signs, as little as those in the crib, and they were enough because his heart was already prepared to comprehend God’s infinite mystery of love.

Sometimes, we are looking for complicated signs and it can also be all right. Little, however, may be enough to believe if our heart is open and we listen to the Spirit who infuses trust and joy in our believing, a sense of satisfaction, and fullness of heart. If we are simple and available to God’s grace, we will enter into the number of those who are gifted with the task of proclaiming those essential truths that enlighten our existence and allow us to touch the mystery manifested by the Word-made-flesh. We will experience how perfect joy is possible even in this world, notwithstanding our daily pains and sorrows. (Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, 1927 – 2012)

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