When the shepherds rushed to the manger, they went to see a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, but did so at the impetus of a heavenly vision. The Empire of Love penetrated the mundane and gave a better vision.
The shepherds saw the temporal and the eternal. These hard working men bowed to a baby, but only because of angelic hosts! Shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night became some of the most blessed in history when they saw the Baby.
The Eternal is Best, but Beyond Us at Times
When given a choice between an eternal vision of a great good and a small, temporary vision of a lesser good, we hastily choose the greater over the lesser. This is rational, seemingly, but quite untrue to life.
The great is always greater than the lesser, but the lesser is sometimes appropriate to our status! Hope and I love each other dearly, yet sometimes this love comes from watching Muppet’s Christmas Carol and other times from Jane Eyre.
We make this choice when asked, but in reality the Beatific is often beyond our capacity. We would be consumed by a direct vision and so shrink back in our real lives to something smaller. We choose lesser loves over better loves, because the greater is more dangerous in our broken world.
This is not without sense.
The small loves, the little things, have genuine beauty. The small poem written by a child for her mother has a certain beauty that Shakespeare cannot express just then. This is not a lack in Shakespeare, he may strike just that very note, but the fathers’ s heart may be receptive to the childish poem based on an experience and love of the child.
The Bard is better, but the best is not always best for us or the moment. We have many moods, many emotions. God has given them to us and some of these moods, modes of being, are small. The little pleasures, a walk with a friend, some tasty snack, a warm cup of tea, are good and sometimes right for us. One cannot share the child’s poem and expect other folk to “get” what they have experienced. The little loves are for us and not for many.
The Little Love Leads to the Eternal
Inside of any lesser good is a pathway to the greater. We could go to Bethlehem and only see a baby like any other.
Think about it.
To see a baby, any child, is to see something very great! We see an immortal soul in an animal’s body. That is a miracle of creation.
Even this partial vision of Bethlehem provokes us to see more. This baby, this mother, this quiet father, is not quite like those children, fathers, mothers we have known. There is a divine image in every child, but something more here. As the baby grew to be a boy, this difference became evident.
Where does this divine image come from? How is this small one so awesome? The Christmas Child goes on being beautiful, relevant, and interesting for centuries. We begin in cooing over cuteness, common to all children, and end seeing the God-man in Christmas.
The shepherds had the reverse experience! They saw angels proclaiming gloriously and then went and saw a couple in a cave with a baby.
The greater vision tipped them off to the lesser.
This is different than the path most of us follow, but the end of each journey is to live in the little joys of life with awareness of the eternal. The eternal gives lasting meaning to the ephemeral experience. The party may end, but the meaning need not. We can use our jollity as a step to true happiness.
Christmas is eternity in the ephemeral: the True Light first glimpsed in the Christmas Star that would never be seen again.
These are the three days of Christmastide, just for the faithful, though everyone is invited! For some reason, secular society has adopted our holiday (good!), but limited it to (at most) one week. Let us enjoy a full feast.