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Nativitatis et mortis

By December 23, 2013May 7th, 2019No Comments

At Christ­mas­time, I think we neglect to remember the myrrh-bearing magi with his fune­real spices. We tend toward cel­e­brating the nov­elty of birth as an end in itself, but I think that the most beau­tiful part of the nativity of Jesus is not the inno­cent child in swad­dling clothes suck­ling at his mother’s breast, a vignette of oxy­tocin-driven dreams; but the very enflesh­ment of god which nec­es­sarily presages death.

The wisdom of chris­tianity has, I think, always been the min­gling of joy and sorrow, gain and loss; the sus­taining of oppo­sites in per­petual paradox. I remember my sons, newly born, and that my ecstasy was in some intractable way alloyed with fears, anx­i­eties, and sad­ness: for their safety, my prob­able failure as a father, the guilt of having brought an unbroken being to be broken in a shat­tered world, the like­li­hood that they would never love me as much as I loved them. Ah, but the paradox is unas­sail­able. To be blessed is to be wounded. To be saved is to be lost. To live, to be born, is to die.

God, in the incar­na­tion (at least in my esti­ma­tion), redeemed matter by con­de­scending into it not by ele­vating it. God began the process of the redemp­tion of humanity, not by lifting it out of its nature but by entering into its nature. To become enfee­bled and finite. To be born with the shadow of death already present in the cradle, the scent of the pall and tomb wafting from a jar. To enter into rela­tion­ship with crea­tures who by the slow move­ments of the ages — the gen­er­a­tion of many gen­er­a­tions — came to under­stand the moral inter­play of amoral matter by wit­nessing self as object among objects, selves. To rec­og­nize the other and in turn be the other.

God came down and dwelt among us. He sensed with our capri­cious organs. He entered into our very being to expe­ri­ence the world as us and call us not out of our­selves but into an imi­ta­tion of him who embodies us as we could ide­ally be. The beauty of god’s flesh-made birth is that he embraced the inevitability of death, divest­ment of power, res­ig­na­tion into weak­ness. Only after being pow­er­less and weak and only after dying, does god defeat death, all powers and prin­ci­pal­i­ties, all bold­ness and might.