The enchanting mystery of Christmas

I anticipate Christmas Eve each year, and even long for it, because by about 6 p.m., the commercial din that began mere days after Thanksgiving and grew slowly over the succeeding weeks toward a fulsome frenzy of mall mania, parking-lot angst and swipe-card silliness suddenly falls quiet. Silence becomes nearly palpable. Suburban streets, shopping centres and downtown office buildings assume a kind of haunting eeriness that suggests some kind of rapturous event has occurred, leaving mere mortals behind.

And, in a way, it has. Christmas has come, ready or not. Commercial jingles and slogans about the meaning of the season are mercifully sucked into some unseen cosmic dumpster, laying bare the stark, enchanting nudity of Christmas — the bare bones, the naked flesh, the unadorned essence.

There is nothing left now but to approach the creche — this crude, stylized manger scene meant to mirror some similar imagining of nearly 2,000 years ago. We tend too often to admire it only from afar. In our detached, urbane, 20th-century sophistication, we refuse to allow ourselves to get close enough. Like a finely played classical guitar or cello, this event is best appreciated in close proximity, in its unamplified, undistorted form.

Pause before this natal moment, this nativity scene. Take several steps, sometimes many steps, forward. Dare to gaze intently into the eyes of this child. Wait patiently until, like an a 3-D optical puzzle or motion picture, the full depth of this event suddenly comes into focus — the unbearable dimensions of the infinite contained in the finite, the eternal captured in the temporal. Once seen, you wonder why you couldn’t see it at first blush.

But the voyage of discovery continues. Look even more closely, adjusting your focus again, slightly, ever so slightly, until there, at the outer edge of the child’s cornea, you glimpse your own reflection.

In seeing that image, you grasp the mysterious, eternal truth that the invasion of human history by something divine is celebrated in the nativity, but is not confined to it. That discovery, with its many Christmas corollaries, is the best hope for peace on earth in a world conflicted by poverty, war and injustice.

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