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Scott P. Richert

Eternal God: Bethlehem's Child

By December 25, 2010

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Bethlehem's Child, born in a cave
Messiah, sent here to save
Destined to make sacrifice
Only God could pay such price
For the fall of man.

Christmas Eve found us, as it often does, at Saint Michael's Byzantine Catholic Church in Flushing, Michigan. We always arrive early for the half-hour of caroling before the Divine Liturgy, and I never fail to be struck by a certain contrast between the Eastern European koledy and the Anglo-American carols that Saint Michael's cantors intersperse between them.

In general, those carols most beloved in the Anglo-American world focus on one moment in time—the moment of Christ's Birth, with all the wonders described in Luke's Gospel that surrounded it. The koledy, of course, begin with Christ's Birth, but they rather quickly expand to encompass the whole of the salvific mystery, from Adam's Fall to Christ's Death and Resurrection. (In this, they are worthy counterparts to a notable exception in the Anglo-American tradition, Charles Wesley's theological masterpiece, Hark the Herald Angels Sing.)

Royal palace not for Him
Turned away from Bethl'em's inn
God had deigned it so.
To serve the poor
These things He must know.

Yes, these things, and many more—from fasting and physical pain through the rejection of those whom He came to save to the Way of the Cross and the Crucifixion and death. Only through such sacrifice could the full glory of Easter morning be revealed.

Why do bad things happen to good people? Believers ask that question when they doubt their faith; nonbelievers regard it as proof that there is no God. Yet the answer lies before us today, wrapped in swaddling clothes. The worst things that ever occurred happened to the best Man Who ever lived. The light of the star will be swallowed up by the eclipse of the sun; the shadow of the Cross lies over the manger.

And yet Bethlehem's cave finds its counterpart in the empty tomb, both hewn from rock, and both the site of God's revelation of His Son to man.

As we adore the Child in the manger, we anticipate the empty tomb; but we also, if our faith is anything more than an empty shell, unite ourselves to Christ in every aspect of His life—the suffering and pain, the rejection and death. Our gaze falls on a Child, but we see the face of a Man crucified. That is the heart of the Christian mystery.

Yet it is a mystery that cuts both ways. When we gaze upon Christ on the Cross, we see the face of the Child, and of the Man Who conquered death. When we see Mary, in the depth of her sorrow, holding her dead Son in her arms, we see her happiness when she held her newborn Child, and the incomprehensible joy of their reunion in Heaven.

Why do bad things happen to good people? So that those good people, by uniting themselves to Christ's sacrifice, can become better, and the pain of their crosses can turn into the joy of the empty tomb, and of Bethlehem's cave.

Destined to make sacrifice
Only God could pay such price
For the fall of man.

Merry Christmas to all of the devoted readers of the About.com GuideSite to Catholicism! Christ is born! Glorify Him!

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December 25, 2010 at 4:47 pm
(1) Alice Seidel says:

My husband and I go to a little county church in Greeley, PA and today were treated to a Latin High mass! It was so beautiful and reverent, and Catholic! This Advent, may I say, has been one of the BEST I have ever had! Daily prayers, devotions, and readings have kept me close, not only to Jesus, but to his Mother, in whom I place all my trust.
Have a blessed Christmas Season, and may God bless us, everyone!

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