He Brings True Peace – and a Sword
You don’t have to be a genius like Dickens to appreciate the special warmth and light of Christmas. But more and more it would help, since few of us now spend much time outdoors experiencing these days of cold and dark. And others have made Jesus – who by reliable accounts was, by turns, both compassionate and severe – into a year-round warm and fuzzy security blanket. So it takes some effort to see the special nature of the birth we will celebrate tomorrow and in coming days, which is both a comfort and a challenge.
In some ways, this is nothing new. As Benedict XVI rightly argued in Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, “The ordinariness of Jesus, the provincial carpenter, seems not to conceal a mystery of any kind. His origin marks him out as one like any other.” Generations of Scripture scholars now have labored, largely taking their start from materialist or secularist assumptions, to show that this is really the whole of the Christian story. He was born like everyone else; his life unrolled like his neighbors’; yes, he said some remarkable things – but we can find rough parallels in earlier Judaism and even other religions; the miracles are unbelievable and must be explainable as really natural human phenomena like sharing (loaves and fishes) or as merely symbolic stories (the Eucharist, above all).
Against all that, however, stand two millennia of witnesses to the way Christ works in individual lives and the world. Thomas Aquinas, no credulous thinker he, recalls that Jesus Himself encouraged people, if they could not believe in Him as who He was, to believe in Him because of “the miracles by which Christ confirmed the doctrine of Apostles and of the other saints.”