This post is part of the “First Friday link-up” at:
“Alle Jahre wieder kommt das Christuskind!” was one of the first things I learned about the celebration of Christmas in Germany – “Every year the Christ Child comes again!” I was a Protestant back then, and while the German concept of Sankt Nikolaus didn’t strike me as too terribly odd – he was a dead ringer for Santa, though he didn’t seem to understand that Christmas takes place on the 25th, and chose to make an appearance each year on the 6th instead – the excitement over the strange being known as the “Christkind” really rubbed me the wrong way. “Christkind” translates literally as “Christ child,” and the idea that Germans had fictionalized the Nativity narrative, telling their children that the baby Jesus comes to earth year after year after year to, in effect, play Santa – that really got my dander up. It sounded so incredibly Catholic. If you’ll believe you can pray to dead people and work your way to Heaven, you’ll find yourself teaching your kids that the baby Jesus brought them their Christmas tree!
Imagine my shock when I learned that the originator of the Christkind hoax was none other that the Great One, Martin Luther.
Luther, you see, had a problem with St. Nicholas. The real Nicholas was a historical figure, a 4th-century Catholic bishop who championed the divinity of Christ at the pivotal Council of Nicaea. December 6th is his feast day, and the Germans of Luther’s time were accustomed to giving and receiving gifts on that day. Luther wanted to take the focus off the Catholic bishop as the bearer of good gifts and place it on Jesus, so he encouraged the giving on gifts on the day that “Christ’s Mass” had been celebrated, as well as encouraging the story that it was Jesus Who was responsible for the gifts.
Well, I didn’t care if Martin Luther had started the practice – I was against it! The very idea of encouraging the notion that the historical figure Jesus Christ, God Incarnate, was still somehow, in some way, shape or form an infant upset me. I knew that some Catholic saints such as Anthony of Padua, Francis of Assisi, Catherine of Bologna and Agnes of Montepulciano had claimed to have seen the Child Jesus in visions and have interacted with Him. “Nonsense!” I insisted. “Jesus is no longer a baby!! Jesus, the grown Man, was crucified and resurrected. To claim that you’ve seen that Man with the nail prints in His hands and feet is one thing, but to claim that He appeared to you as a tiny baby? Puh-leeeze….”
That was, of course, before I began contemplating the mysteries of Jesus’ Most Sacred Heart.
My objection to the Christ Child lay in the recognition of the reality of how different I am from the babe that lay in my mother’s arms all those years ago. To say that I’ve changed is an understatement – I have become, almost literally, another person entirely. I was tainted, of course, by original sin, but as a newborn I was at least innocent of any deliberate evil. I certainly cannot say that now. This is par for the human course; boys and girls, as they grow, learn that they can get what they want by manipulating their environment. And so you lie to your mother, you steal from your siblings, you pretend you don’t hear your father calling you, you plot and connive, you conceal, you prevaricate, you defy. All this before you even start school. Once the process of organized socialization begins, you learn a whole new set of tricks from your depraved little co-conspirators. By the time God the Holy Spirit is finally able to wrestle your wanton heart into submission, it has been pitted by repeated sin; it is pock-marked, and pebbly, and distressingly worn. When you hand the sorry thing over to God, He is able to begin the process of creating in you a new heart, one free from sin – a process that will take the rest of your natural life, and quite probably a large dose of purgatory, to complete.
In this life, no, you will never be the same.
Jesus was different. The incomparably pure Heart of the Eternal Son of the Father, formed by the Holy Spirit in the Virgin Mother’s womb, substantially united to the Word of God, never experienced a stain. Jesus increased in years, in wisdom and in stature, but His innocent Heart was never compromised – It remained the Abyss of all Virtue. The Heart of the Babe in the manger was the Heart that gave Itself freely on Calvary as the Victim for our sins; the Heart that cried out “Father, forgive them” could have gone back to the manger and slept in heavenly peace. The Most Sacred Heart of Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever, and therefore the Man Who after His resurrection appeared to His disciples in forms that they did not recognize could certainly appear to His more recent disciples as the Babe that He once was, and forever is, by virtue of the unchanging purity of His Most Sacred Heart.
And so, as a Catholic, I have made my peace with the Christ Child – not with the one Lutherans made up to deliver gifts, but with the real One, the One who allowed Sts. Agnes, Catherine, Francis and Anthony to adore Him. I hope to always be allowed to adore Him as well, in this life and in the next, and His Heart of Infinite Majesty, formed by the Holy Spirit in the Virgin Mother’s womb.
On the memorial of St. Nicholas of Myra
Deo omnis gloria!