December 24, 2023 Essay: A Season of Beauty and Wonder
At this year’s Christmas Pageant, presented by our grammar school students, one of the student narrators who introduced the performance commented that Christmas is “a season of beauty and wonder.” That phrase remained with me throughout the pageant and has permeated my consciousness ever since. A season of beauty and wonder, and yet we live in a world of darkness and dread, bombarded by reports of events on distant shores and our own city streets that mute the strains of Peace on Earth and shatter our dreams for the future. Beauty and wonder seem but illusions.
Another vivid image that has had a place of prominence in my consciousness since I saw it was the photo of a creche prominently displayed in a church. Unlike the idyllic scenes we are accustomed to, the entire scene was filled with rubble, and at its center, the Infant Jesus was placed. There was no shelter for the child. There were no animals to bring warmth. There were no shepherds. And most tragic of all, there were no parents to protect the child from harm’s way. There was only devastation and debris, as though a giant abyss was about to swallow the child into a vortex of destruction and darkness. The scene was obviously intended to display graphically the tragedy unfolding today in the Holy Land.
A rather stark contrast of words and images that have been intruding on my consciousness as I prepare to celebrate the birth of the one promised by God to save the world from the folly of its own undoing. Happiness sparkled on the faces and in the smiles of the students who participated in the Christmas pageant. Parents and family members who were present beamed with pride. Each carol and pageant scene trumpeted the joy that is rightly associated with this season. Beauty and wonder were evident that night as we dared to dream, in that moment, that all was right with the world and would forever be. For unto us, the Prince of Peace is born.
And as for the searing image of the creche, I was drawn more deeply into it. The desolation I initially experienced began to fade as my reflections focused on the very center of the creche. There was an exquisite serenity that radiated from the vulnerable infant lying in the detritus of conflict. Beauty and wonder were captured in the glow of the infant’s gaze. His radiance was the incarnation of God with us, Emmanuel, wherever we are—in the midst of the rubble of our lives, in the deepest darkness of loneliness, at the center of everything that brings us joy, in our successes and failures, Emmanuel!
We will gather this Christmas season as others have done for more than two millennia. We will bring with us everything that is in our consciousness and hearts and place at the crib our dreams and hopes, our gratitude and praise, our fears and regrets, and, most important of all, our belief that this is truly a season of beauty and wonder. We do this trusting in God’s love for us, believing that the Father sent the Son into our world, an imperfect world, messy and blood-stained but filled with the beauty that is and that is yet to be. The wonders of His love exceed our every hope and dream. Joy to the World is the anthem that is befittingly sung by those who believe.
Christmas, in truth, is a season of beauty and wonder. May our hearts be open to receive the wonders of God’s love this Christmas and every day of our lives. Merry Christmas!
— Rev. Dennis J. Yesalonia, S.J., Pastor