The chorus from Handel’s Messiah begins with a delicate “For unto us a child is born,” and builds to a thunderous “And his name shall be called Wonderful!” The Gospels for the three Christmas Masses follow a similar progression. Images from the first two Gospels are captured in many Christmas cards—a child is born. The third Gospel lifts us out of history into the realm of mystery—his wonderful name is the Word.
The birth of a baby is always a time of celebration and hope—celebration that the cynicism that clouds so much of our lives has been dispelled; hope that life will be better for the baby and, because of the baby, better for the rest of us.
The future of us all is on the shoulders of the child in whose birth we rejoice. With his birth, the new world of promise has been born and God is proven trustworthy. The question is whether or not we are trustworthy; will we be faithful to the present and fashion a new world for the future?
This child’s birth is shrouded in paradox. Though he was in the beginning with God, he enters into time to be with us; though all things were made through him, he concealed his power under swaddling bands. He came as prince of peace into a world of enmity. He came as light into a world of darkness. We cannot help but ask, what has really changed with his birth? Is there light? Is there peace? The first reading of the third Mass suggests that the answer to those questions is somehow up to us.
The new world that this child brings, the restoration that his birth promises, is happening before our eyes. If we do not see it, perhaps it is because we are doing nothing to bring it about. Perhaps the peace we wish each other is merely a holiday greeting and not a promise to live in peace. Perhaps we have romanticized the poor and despised shepherds while we ignore the poor and despised in our midst. Perhaps our celebration of Christmas is simply the re-enactment of a seasonal mystery play rather than the real enactment of God’s love for us all.
To those who do accept him, he gives the power to change the world, because his name is Wonderful!