Every year I try to put a Christmas story from one of my books up for you all. These year I chose "The Creche" from the new book Visits With Angels. Merry Christmas everyone, and may your Holiday Season be a Holy and Happy one!
One year, I very much wanted to kneel before the creche near the altar after midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. It had been a wonderful Mass - perhaps because it was midnight Mass, perhaps because everyone had braved the snow and the cold to be there. There were lit candles and the popular and well-known carols beforehand, sung by the entire congregation and with harmonies added by the choir and other instruments from the organ loft at the rear of the church, above and behind us. The unison of untrained voices has always moved me deeply, with each person finding their own comfortable octave, the octave that best suits their own voice - the sound of the music moving along, taking the voices and octaves with it, as though one giant Voice with many parts. Somehow there is an honesty and a profundity in this sort of musical effort, even when badly sung, that I have not found in vocal music split into harmony. A soon as harmonies are added, any imperfections grate on me and fully spoil the music. I have never understood why this is so.
Huge fir trees were set up on the altar. The vestments of the priests, the angelic altar boys with their candles, the Beauty and Meaning of the Mass itself, the procession of small children singing and circling the church holding candles to end the Mass, with gallant and festive music afterwards, and many extra musicians brought in for the occasion - all these factors lent a magical air to both the night and to the sacred devotion.
Many non-Catholics come to midnight Christmas Mass in Ithaca, I suspect mainly for the music. This night after Mass I unexpectedly met a handful of non-Catholic friends, all sitting together in a row, towards the back of the church. After some words of greeting, I asked if any of them wished to see the creche at the front of the church, fairly small and hard to see from where we were. After a short discussion, two of my friends agreed to accompany me. One had been raised Jewish, the other Lutheran. An excited, small sea of humanity was still chatting or milling around happily in the church as my two friends and I approached the altar. As we wended our way through, down the center aisle, side by side, I whispered that we should kneel when we reached the altar rail. Suddenly, and for some reason I could not explain, I felt as though we were the three Magi, coming to honor the Divine Child in the manger, almost two millennia earlier.
The figures in the creche were quite lifelike, and as we knelt before it - I was drawn to look into the eyes of the Christ Child in His simple, wooden cradle. His small figure was facing me in the creche, and after some moments I realized with a jolt - that the little figure resting in the crude wooden cradle, was not a child, an infant. No, that little painted clay or plaster figurine was looking at me and through me with ageless, Infinite Eyes. The experience became almost terrifying, yet I was unable to disengage my eyes from His penetrating Gaze. The experience probably lasted only a few moments, but it felt like hours. And then He once again became the Infant Christ half asleep in His cradle. Shaken, I then inwardly asked Him to bless the world. That thought had barely formed and expressed itself in my mind when a most brilliant and wide swath of radiant Light arose, and shot upwards from the creche to the ceiling of the vaulted church. This continued for quite some time, and I knelt before the manger scene and stared in amazement. After this immediate and astonishing answer to my simple prayer, I inwardly thanked the Divine Child and then inwardly began to sing “Silent Night” to Him, gently urging Him to peacefully sleep. Well, sometimes it is very hard to look at the Infant in the manger scene, because I know His future, and it is a very terrible, painful future. To end His sacred and fully selfless Incarnation hanging on a wooden cross ... the thought is really too much for me to bear. And so, when I look at the Divine Child, I try to put all those painful thoughts from my mind, as not to disturb Him, not to remind Him in any way. Even though I had seen His Infinite and Timeless Being that night at the church, He was also the incarnate, Divine Child in the manger here on earth. He is and was both God and man. So sometimes I relate to Him as the Infinite, and sometimes as the incarnate Divine Infant. I think He is equally pleased to be adored and loved both ways - St. Joseph and Our Lady, in apparitions all over the world, have often appeared with Him as the Divine Child.
In a way, I think it is the same for us mortals here on earth. We exist as the infant and as the old woman. And we are the soul. The soul is the True Self, and the old woman is the human, incarnate form we might be manifesting in the present - but the child is no less real. Just because the sentence I am writing now is in the present, does not make it any more real or any more useful to me or to the world than a sentence I wrote ten years ago. They all equally exist. In fact, I very much love that Our Lady will sometimes bring the Holy Infant with Her - because it also reminds us all that time does not exist in the way we think it does. And that every moment of our lives and life itself is special and alive, and in some way imprinted, recorded in the Mind of God and upon each soul.