Christmas, the Father’s MercyWe repropose a meditation from Fr. Luigi Giussani, taken from the book Dalla liturgia vissuta. Una testimonianza [From the lived liturgy. A witness], first printed in 1973.
With Christmas, a new reality, a new presence has entered the world. Certainty becomes objective. The presence of the Word goes beyond the level of appearances, which can deceive. The announcement of this newness of life, this presence, interests us only inasmuch as the newness reaches out to engulf each one of us. The scope of the Incarnation is to assimilate us into His divinity. Word made flesh… to draw us into Himself. The essential dimension of this opposition to the mundane and the ephemeral, of this divinity dwelling in humanity, is that it makes us one with Him, it draws us inside His measure.
After Christmas, ours is a new presence.
Let us underline, first and foremost, one radical factor of the mystery of Christmas. It is the factor at the origin of our dedication as Christians and that defines all else: the Father. It is, in fact, the Father’s mercy and power that generates Christmas; Christ among us is the manifestation of His benevolence, His charity. The Father is the cause of everything; therefore, the first authoritativeness–and there is no other–at the origin of our Christian life is solely the will of the Father.
Religiosity consists of this: doing “what is pleasing to the Father.” It is possible, in fact, to have a passion for Jesus Christ but not be religious, if the sense of mystery is missing. Adoration of the Father is, however, also a guarantee of the truth of our love for Christ, because the Father is a mystery that cannot be reduced to sentimentality or dialectics–He is mystery and authority.
Now, let us look at these affirmations in their methodological, practical applications.
Let’s ask ourselves, What is the value and the significance of Christ’s words when He says, “I always do what I see my Father do” (Jn 8:29)? These words indicate a way of acting and moving that has obedience as its fundamental dimension.
This original authoritativeness, the authority at the source of everything, reveals itself to us through an event. The announcement, the message, is an event. If, then, it is through an event that the authoritative source reveals itself, the event also becomes an authority in our life.
In the Bible, the missionary dialogue between Father and Son, out of which flows the world’s redemption, is depicted as a dialogue of obedience: “Here I am, send me. You have called me. Here I am, send me.” The mystery of the Incarnation at Christmas is the mystery of obedience. Thus, the death and resurrection of Christ are obedience to the definitive power of the Father. And that definitive power is Christ: He is the obedient one.
“My Father is at work until now, so I am at work” (Jn 5:17).
“Amen, amen I say to you, a son cannot do anything on his own, but only what he sees his Father doing” (Jn 5:19). “I cannot do anything on my own; I judge as I hear, and my judgment is just, because I do not seek my own will but the will of the One who sent me” (Jn 5:30).
“I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the One who sent me” (Jn 6:38).
“My teaching is not my own but is from the One who sent me” (Jn 7:16).
“I know him, because I am from Him, and He sent me” (Jn 7:29).
“I do nothing on my own, but I say only what the Father taught me” (Jn 8:28). “I tell you what I have seen in the Father’s presence” (Jn 8:38).
The obedience to the Father that is the substance of this new subject, who goes on to preach, die on the cross, rise from the dead, and create the church, is obedience to the Father’s design, which can only be understood in concrete, historical, and mundane terms; it is made up of encounters, events, and real things.
The supreme reminder of the mystery of Christmas is the existence of obedience in the world. This allows humanity to embrace the profound peace that comes from finding its rightful place: as creatures. “Peace on earth to the people who await His coming.”
You cannot build except in peace.
The Lord, who came to rebuild, to remake humanity and the world–you cannot see the Kingdom of God unless you are born again–came bearing, above all, peace.
“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you.” This is the peace and security of God’s design for us: this peace and security is in the word God has spoken and still speaks to us, in the design in which He involves us.
This security in the God who is calling us, on His own terms, is called faith.
“The one who is righteous lives by faith.”
The grace of Christmas is the grace of peace, which is a fruit of faith, which is in turn the security found in His word.
At the end of Advent, of our waiting with the certainty He will come, there is another certainty, the certainty that He has already come; He is already working in us.
Peace, the sense that one’s life is founded on secure ground and sustained by strength, can only flow from an awareness of the Father’s authoritativeness.
The stability of our life increases or decreases with our awareness of our relationship with the Father. Analogously, true serenity in the work we do lies in the fascinating gratuitousness and rich beauty of that event through which we perceived and discovered the meaning of all things in His memory. (In the fullest sense: “Do this in ‘memory’ of Me.”) If we are not grounded in this supreme security, we, in order to find serenity, have to keep finding things to keep us busy from morning to night to justify our existence. We need to be faithful to that fact; in other words, to be aware of it–and awareness of it is awareness of oneself.
In the agony in the garden, Jesus brought along three others, and was saddened because they were not able to keep vigil with Him. The same is true for us. That peace that originates from a relationship with the Father, the event that generates discourse, the security that inspires us to lean upon an Other who comes first, is externally manifested as dependence on a communion with the people caught up in the same event.
The “memory” of this generates a lifelong companionship, a companionship that is not, however, an escape because it is a dimension of our “I,” a place offering inspiration, not proficiency or ways to organize one’s actions.
The deeper our sense of the Father, the stronger and more ineradicable our communion with those whom God put close to us will be. (Christ sacrifices Himself, above all, for those God placed close to Him.) This communion is the permanence of the event in time, the objectification of our relationship with the meaning of things. It is a communion present in everything I do in the same way a cause is present in action (this is why it is not an escape).
This communion is the first nucleus of charity, which determines our charity toward everyone else. If we do not respect that original, generative charity, our charity toward others would also be diminished because it would either be less intelligent (less conscious of its motivation) or more individualistic (flowing ultimately from our own decision).
Peace lives on as hope.
The people of God, our communion, is the place of that hope.
Peace is the certainty in “awaiting the appearance of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ,” period.
The appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ follows the design of the Father, and the law that describes that following of the Father’s design is the word Incarnation: faith within the world.
The Father, revealing Himself to us, gave us the Son in a very particular and structured context. He was born that night, in that circumstance; those people found Him. He was circumcised like all the other Jews; He was given the name that had been ordained.
Therefore, that fragment of the world that is our today and the “here” where we live indicates the method of the Incarnation. Total adherence: “He became like His brothers in every way.”
The contours of the situation in which God places us are so unique, the way that this faith is incarnated is so concrete, that the environment, the needs of the world and society in which we live everything, dictate the form of our witness, the form of our faith’s presence.
A faith within the world: ours is a time in which that “within” is called for by God’s design, so much so that it is unavoidable. To exist, one must be “within.”
The vocation of retiring from the world is certainly an exception at this historical moment.
In any case, despite all appearances, hope, the hope given by faith, is the only thing that generates incarnation.
It might seem that we are concrete because we act, and perhaps we are saddened by seeing ourselves or others who are not acting.
It might seem that our works are what gives substance to our faith, which is an atrocious misunderstanding.
If it is not generated by faith and hope, incarnation is an escape, an intolerance of the cross, a presumption of depending in a certain way; it is “not taking the leap” and “sitting on the fence.” The Incarnation is born out of faith and lives in hope; it is charity. Otherwise, it is worthless and offers no peace.
The Incarnation realized through sacrifice is charity; it is the announcement of a new reality; it is the “day God made for us.”
Faith, hope, and love are the principles by which the supernatural, dwelling in us almost invisibly, is made perceivable; they are the principles of a new identification with God, a new birth inside us, a mysterious unity with Christ.
Our true work is pointed out for us in the attitude of the shepherds. “When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this Child” (Lk 2:17). “Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them” (Lk 2:20).
Christ communicated His life to us for the sake of mission, and what He communicated to us, we make manifest just as the shepherds did. To manifest and to give glory and praise are the exact same gesture.
The joy of Christmas begins and is expressed as the possession of something–an announcement–that belongs not to us, but to another; it is a joy that is pure love and pure altruism. This is why Christmas is the feast of the child in the Gospel sense–the feast of simplicity.
This capacity to rejoice in something other than oneself closes the circle between God the Creator and God the Redeemer, because this simplicity is nothing other than the shining forth of what we are, deep down: expectancy of an Other. If there were not at least a drop of this simplicity in us, we could not welcome God within, or even recognize that the announcement is true, that it corresponds to us and to our expectation. The Christmas liturgy is the liturgy of Our Lady.
“Blessed are you who believed in the fulfillment of what was spoken to you” (Lk 1:45).
Blessed, then, for no other reason except that you trusted the announcement.
Beatitude, the truth of the Christian life, depends solely on this purity in accepting and living out the announcement; it is a purity we see in Mary, the shepherds, and the magi. “That same day, Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste” (Lk 1:39). “In haste” corresponds to what St. Paul said in the ninth chapter of his second letter to the Corinthians: “God loves a cheerful giver.”
“She went in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, ‘Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who obeyed, who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled’” (Lk 1:39–45).
Let us reflect on what that event meant for Our Lady, and how she was obedient to it.
We can make an analogy to our own lives, in which God calls us through privileged moments.
I am referring to an event that can, naturally, be repeated in various ways in our lives, but that had a very precise, identifiable beginning. There are certain moments in life which manifest a fundamental authority that all the other events in life–each with its indispensable and permanent role–unfold and develop.
It is the kind of event that has an eminently revelatory function, illuminating everything else; just as, for the Apostles, Pentecost did not erase the moments on Calvary or the resurrection, but rather illuminated, explained, and made sense of them. In this illuminating event, the authority of the Father is revealed, and the history of our relationship with the church takes on the power of its meaning, and thus is grafted onto the root of our personality. A new word, a new discourse, begins in our life. Therefore, because authority is revealed as “idea and norm,” this event is the originating moment of our Christian life, not from an ontological point of view (that is baptism), but from the point of view of authoritativeness (it is the event that also helps us understand the meaning of baptism).
Our function, the contribution our person can give through our particular gifts, the communion in which our personality rests and is nourished, to which our “I” refers with the same totality as it is embraced, the communion where we draw inspiration, are all determined by this kind of revelatory event that unlocks the meaning of our Christian life.
These define a specificity and communion for us that are not at all an escape, but rather make our communion with everything and dedication to the world possible, reasonable, and full of affection; they are a specificity and communion that are constitutive characteristics of our “I,” not external factors.
Just as we live, move, and act through our own faces, we live and move through the clarifying inspiration and inspirational communion that flows out of that revelatory event, that announcement we received. It is the kind of event that also sheds light on the most important facts that constitute our life and person; therefore, we always do what is “pleasing” to that fact; we act pushed by the wave of that announcement. Our actions are missionary, communicating that announcement.
Otherwise, what sense would it make to dedicate our lives to others? Doing so would involve merely a chain of meaningless reactions and activity whose criteria were ultimately pulled at random from our own reactions. The Father, in contrast, works by design; He orders all things in function of the whole.
If at one pole in the dialectic the mystery of Christmas represents for us we have the figure of Mary, at the other, we have the idea of the saints. If the announcement is at one end, witness is at the other.
The saints’ feast days that follow immediately after Christmas in the liturgy are the fulfillment of this idea of testifying to the Lord’s coming into the world, and they find their source and origin in the Epiphany: the manifestation of the Lord to the whole world because His coming is for the whole world.
The meaning of our entire life is spent in bearing witness to Him, in communicating to all people that He has come. A Christian, in fact, is not someone who is better than others, but rather one who has received the task of communicating the announcement and the joy of Christmas to others. The task of a Christian, then, is not to revolutionize structures, but rather to communicate this announcement. You cannot, however, communicate it without being a companion to all people. That is where a commitment to everything that concerns men and women–consequently, to structures–fits in, but it is merely a consequence and a vehicle; the value of one’s commitment to humanity comes from the transcendent. (“Without Me you can do nothing.” “Martha, Martha you are anxious and worried about many things. Only one thing is essential.”) This is the origin of our awareness of the disproportion between what we do and its eschatological significance. Our task is to proclaim this announcement: “The Lord has come; take comfort and fear no longer.” It is, in short, a passion for witness that ought to make us, like St. Paul, “all things to all.”
The reminder of this time of Christmas lies in the Word that communicates itself to us, the Word that rebuilds the world, that constructs.
We need our entire person to desire that Christ be everything in our lives and in the life of the world.
This kind of identification is possible in faith, and faith is a judgment that recognizes the value and the implications of a fact that happened among men and women.