Book excerpt: The challenge of the baby in the manger on the Fourth Sunday of Advent

Last week we were given a brief break in order to enjoy, to relish, to revel (a bit) in the idea of Emmanuel, “God is with us.”

This final short week offers a handful of days to join Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and the magi, in pondering the curious and harrowing manner in which Almighty God chose to lower himself in order to save all people from their sins.

Curious? Despite repeated prophecies, no mighty person noticed a baby born to a pair of nobodies in a flyspeck town on the edge of the Roman Empire.

Harrowing? Joseph would have to flee with Mary and the baby to Egypt in order to escape a massacre that failed of its aim, recalling the massacre of Hebrew babies in Egypt at the time of Moses.

At midnight on Christmas Eve, we celebrate a holy birth. For Catholics, the tolling of the bell at midnight is the start of the joyous Christmas season.

Merry Christmas, and a happy new year!

From Benedictus, a collection of daily readings from the writing of Pope Benedict XVI:

At the heart of the mystery is the paradox that the glorious God decided to manifest himself… in the helplessness of a child who is overlooked by adult society and comes into the world in a stable.

The powerlessness of a child has become the proper expression of God’s all-subduing power, for the only force he employs is the silent force of truth and love.

It was, then, in the defenseless weakness of a child that God wanted us to have our first encounter with saving mercy.

And, in fact, how comforting it is, amid all the self-assertiveness of this world’s powers, to see the peaceful tranquility of God and thus to experience the security emanating from a power that in the end will be stronger than any other force and will outlast all the loud triumphal cries of the world…

Once again, it is unfortunately all too true that for many people religion has been transmuted into a sentiment which no longer has any reality to support it…

Yet in many respects another attitude is perhaps even more dangerous: the attitude of those who regard themselves as religious but limit religion to the realm of feeling and allow it no contact with a sober rationalism of daily life in which they seek naught but personal gain…

The unparalleled realism of the divine love of which Christmas speaks, and the action of the God who is not satisfied with words but takes on himself the wretched burden of human life — these should challenge us anew, year after year, to examine the realism of our faith and to strive for something more than the sentimentality of mere feeling.