It was under the cloak of darkness that the birth of our Savior took place. It was so hidden an event that no one in that City of Bethlehem knew that the longed for coming of the Promised One was at last taking place. On account of the census, there were so many people in that city on that night so much so that “there was no room for them in the inn.” Our Lady and St. Joseph were forced into the stable not really because the innkeeper did not want them in. Rather, they took refuge in that lowly stable because of the privacy the Virgin needed in bringing forth her first born Son. So many people crowding the city and yet not one sensed that this particular night is not a night like any other. It was a silent night, yet a holy night – holy because the earth is blessed to receive its Savior.
But what is hidden has to be proclaimed on rooftops. Our Lord would say this later in his public ministry. Before this declaration was made, the angels took heed of it. On that night, the angels appeared to shepherds who were in the fields. Divine light broke the darkness of the night. An angel tells the shepherds of the good news that today, in the City of David, is born Christ the Lord. A huge multitude of heavenly spirits appeared as they sang: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of good will. The secret cannot be kept. The darkness could not hide it. Truly Isaiah’s prophecy is now fulfilled: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light, upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom, a light has shone. The angels could not even wait for dawn. They had to dispel the darkness of this midnight clear. It was a joy which they could not keep to themselves: Christ is born in Bethlehem.
Angels sang of the beauty of this glorious night. No, it was not glorious because of the splendor of heavenly light. The beauty and glory of this night lay hidden in human flesh. This human flesh is further wrapped in swaddling clothes and even disguised in humbler form as this baby lay in a manger. Mortals like you and me could easily be deceived by the humility of its wrappings. We are easily attracted and deceived by appearance. Easily we mistake importance with pomp. The serpent tempted Eve to eat the forbidden fruit which was enticing to the eyes. Who can be attracted to a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and laying in a manger? We may be deceived by what we see but not the angels. They know who he is: he is the Christ and the Lord. Isaiah foretold him and called him “Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, and Prince of Peace. His dominion is vast and for ever peaceful, from David’s throne, and over his kingdom, which he confirms and sustains by judgment and justice both now and forever.”
If only we see him as the angels do, we would immediately abandon the trappings and trimmings of the holidays and understand that this feast is not to be measured by the abundance of food and the affluence of gifts. The only food that makes this day significant is the one who lays on the manger, the one who is born in Bethlehem which means the House of Bread. The only gift that really counts today is the one that is wrapped in swadding clothes (Lk 2:7) to be unwrapped later on upon the wood of the Cross (Mk 15:24) and wrapped in glory in heaven (Mk 16:19). Let us rush not to our hearty meal but to the altar so that we may see the feast the Lord has prepared for us – the Body and Blood of the Son. Let us rush not to the Christmas tree but to the manger bed to see this heavenly Gift the Father has sent us: His only begotten Son. Let us kneel in adoration and keep silent in awe for tonight, heaven comes down to earth, God and man are truly one in this little child: the glory of God lay hidden in the humble flesh of a new born baby. When morning comes, let us proclaim from the rooftops what we have seen tonight. Let us go tell it to the mountains that Jesus Christ is born. Let us not hide the mystery in the cloak of a Happy Holiday. Let us call this day by its true name: Christmas. Merry Christmas…Christ is born today!
We ought to get back the dimension of the sacred in the liturgy. The liturgy is not a festivity; it is not a meeting for the purpose of having a good time. It is of no importance that the parish priest has cudgeled his brains to come up with suggestive ideas or imaginative novelties. The liturgy is what makes the Thrice-Holy God present amongst us; it is the burning bush; it is the Alliance of God with man in Jesus Christ, who has died and risen again. The grandeur of the liturgy does not rest upon the fact that it offers an interesting entertainment, but in rendering tangible the Totally Other, whom we are not capable of summoning. He comes because He wills. In other words, the essential in the liturgy is the mystery, which is realized in the common ritual of the Church; all the rest diminishes it. Men experiment with it in lively fashion, and find themselves deceived, when the mystery is transformed into distraction, when the chief actor in the liturgy is not the Living God but the priest or the liturgical director. - Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Chile, 1988)
Do we still need sacred space, sacred time, mediating symbols? Yes, we do need them, precisely so that, through the "image," through the sign, we learn to see the openness of heaven. We need them to give us the capacity to know the mystery of God in the pierced heart of the Crucified. - Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Spirit of the Liturgy )