As we draw close to Christmas, waiting in these days of darkness, it is profitable to reflect on the purpose of the Incarnation. An anecdote I heard once has it that someone spray-painted on a highway rock-face, Jesus saves!, below which someone attempting humour added, ‘From what?’.
From what, indeed. The short answer is, from sin, the loss of the sense of which, Pius XII warned just after the carnage of World War II, was one of the besetting evils of the twentieth century. We can hide from sin, from our own and that of others, for a time, maybe half a time, but it always catches up, for some more viscerally than others. As I glanced at the news, I noticed that this is the anniversary of the confession of John Wayne Gacy, an apparently regular guy who would fundraise for the Democrats and dress up as a clown for parties, bounce children on his knee, and was a hail-fellow-well-met; yet he was also one of America’s most notorious mass murderers, assaulting, torturing and killing at least 33 young men in the basement of his Chicago ranch house. Gacy was himself put to death by lethal injection just after midnight on May 10, 1994, after spending fourteen years on death row.
There are any number of Gacys out there: Just recently, two young Scandanavian co-eds, hiking in the Moroccan mountains, were found decapitated, the video of their ‘execution’ making its rounds on social media, alas, with three confessed ISIS ‘terrorists’ now detained.
These are the extreme examples, wherein the mask that demonic evil usually wears peels off, revealing the horror within. But every sin – every lustful thought, act of greed, selfishness, pride, envy – contains some seed, some sliver of that same horror, for evil unrepented eventually leads to the loss of salvation, a state which our Tradition calls ‘hell’, of which we see some glimpse in this life.
But the Light is always greater than the darkness, dispelling the gloom of night, as the hymn sings.
And as Chesterton wrote of the mediaeval Celtic warriors, that all their wars were merry and all their songs were sad. Just so, in the midst of our joy in these holy days, we should still keep in mind our sorrows, and, more so, the greater burdens of others, the gaping hole left in the families of those murdered young men and women and all those who have lost loved ones, who are lonely and bereft; and especially those immersed in sin, whose souls are fragmented by an unshriven and seared conscience, who resist the light that brings healing in its rays.
Behind all the kitsch and schmaltz, the eggnog and mistletoe, this is the true message of Christmas, that the wood of the crib will become the wood of the Cross, the Son of God offering Himself for us, and to us.
The thief comes only to kill and steal and destroy; I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
And as the angel said to Joseph and Mary:
You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.