Fr. Gerard D’Souza, OCSO
In his book ‘The Shattering of Loneliness’, Dom Erik Varden, the present abbot of Mount Saint Bernard in England recounts a conversation around the family dinner table. His father, a veterinarian in southern Norway told the family of an unsettling encounter. He arrived at a farm to find the owner haymaking. The day was hot and the farmer, an older man worked shirtless. His back was crisscrossed with deep scars from whipping. He had been in German captivity during the war and was savagely tortured. The dinner conversation soon turned to other topics and life went on for most of those around the dinner table. Not for Dom Erik. The scars haunted him. In his own words ‘the world, I came to see, was a place of menace, human life carried immense potential for pain; someone had to answer for it.’ The scars, the pain, the torture they signify all these force us to question – what is human life about?
Is the world just consigned to blind, capricious forces? What lies at the foundation of it all, in a world so full of menace and pain?
I remember a question posed to our high school class of Hindus, Catholics and Muslims. Who is God? One of my classmates who eventually became a brilliant engineer, a Hindu raised his hand. ‘God is Energy’ I said nothing not being able then and still not able now to think on my feet. But I distinctly remember, how I winced within. Maybe it was the effect of baptismal grace. Just energy frightened me with its impersonality. Our human desires, our hopes, our need for love, for everlasting rest – would this so called Energy know anything about this? Would it even care? We would be as people who walked in darkness. As people who dwelt in the land of gloom and unrelieved night. As people cringing under the rod of the fierce taskmaster.
My brothers and sisters, this holy night is the good news. Not any good news but good news about the foundation of the universe. It is not menace, no matter how real and pressing the sufferings of the world. It is not gloom and darkness. The prophet Isaiah tells us it is a child, a son given to us. On his shoulders all dominion rests. Darkness is real but it has no dominion even if it appears almost triumphant. The face of dominion is revealed – not a divine potentate but a child, a son.
And the gospel brings even greater assurance. This son given us, is not identified with the powers of this world. In fact, he stands in contrast to them. Caesar Augustus like all the powerful of the world gives an order and moves the world. The son given us is like one of us uprooted by the powerful, suffering under the powerful. There is no room in the inn for him. He like us has to come into a minefield of a world, he has to slip in behind enemy lines. He the Lord of the Universe has to evade as best he can the Dragon’s drag net. He is not rendered invisible or immune because he comes as flesh, he comes as body. The grace of God appearing for us is like one of us. This is the good news, the tremendously liberating counterpoint to the depersonalizing menace of the world.
I would like to take this a little further. The angel in St Luke’s gospel tells the shepherd that he brings them good news of great joy. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes. The sign is the infant. This has always intrigued me. The infant is the sign of a reality. I believe that the childlikeness of the infant is the sign of the Father. The Father, the Unoriginated Source of all, is childlike. It is mind boggling for us because we are sinners. Majesty and power are always separated from love and vulnerability. But let us accept what is revealed. God does not just love, He is love. Every attribute, all power, all majesty is but a manifestation of His essential nature – love. At the heart of all things, deeper than the menace of the world, is the child-likeness of the Father who is love. This is the good news the Son came to proclaim in the flesh. As an infant, a child, a son. To render visible to us, the blind, the love that surrounds us. A light that shines in the darkness and a light that the darkness cannot and dare not comprehend.