Innocence is one of the qualities most associated with Christmas. We take joy in the innocence of children young enough to watch, wide-eyed and believing, for Santa Claus and his sleigh. Standing before a Nativity scene, we reflect on the innocence and purity of Mary, the virgin Mother of God, who was preserved from all sin because she was to bear the divine Savior. Many of us will go to confession before Christmas to regain the innocence of soul that was given to us at our baptism.
The news these days is full of anything but innocence. One after another, the stories have broken about prominent men accused of sexual misconduct. Media celebrities, politicians, entertainers, people whose names and faces are known to millions, who have been admired and acclaimed, now have been accused of crimes against women. Reputations and careers have been destroyed, and the circle of shame has widened to include those who covered up the abuse or pretended not to see it.
The news would be revolting at any time, but how ironic it is that it has become public now. Just as we prepare for Christmas, season of light and faith, just as we prepare to begin a new year with its hopes and resolutions, we are confronted with scandal, sordid stories, the grave abuse of power and prominence.
The revelations are bad enough, but the media often make them worse by encouraging what seems like voyeurism: “More details revealed! Photos taken moments after he was terminated! Another alleged victim makes allegations!” For our own sanity, the best thing to do is to look away. When the tumult dies down, we can think more clearly about what is to be learned from it all.
Meanwhile, I’m thinking about it in relation to the feast we’re about to celebrate. Christmas songs filled with references to joy, good cheer and fellowship can start to sound hollow when the society we live in is so wounded and so many people are disillusioned and cynical.
But that is the kind of world Jesus entered as man. He came to save a world that was badly in need of salvation. As anyone knows who reads the Bible and history, the sin and scandal we see around us today were part of life in antiquity, too. Innocence was long gone; it had departed with Adam and Eve when they walked out of Eden. The world that Christ walked into was filled with war, power struggles, corruption, sexual misdeeds, poverty and oppression.
One of my favorite Christmas carols, “God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen,” asks us to remember that Christ was born “to save us all from Satan’s power/When we were gone astray.” The human race had indeed gone astray, no less then than now.
And how did Jesus enter the world? In poverty, humility and obscurity. His first bed was the manger in which Mary placed him, most likely inside a stable or cave that housed animals. The first visitors to welcome the Child were shepherds, men who occupied a low rung on the social ladder of the day.
Years later, Jesus would invite a young man to give up everything to follow him. It was a call to poverty, chastity and obedience, and as spiritual writers have observed, it turned upside down the worldly goals of money, sex and power. Most people are not called to make that total sacrifice, but all are called to virtue in the use of money, sex and power. When the desire for them becomes foremost in a person’s life, when it crowds out the sense of one’s own dignity and that of others, we get the kind of news we’ve been hearing lately.
But there is good news. We know it as the Gospel, and it is filled with hope. It is the call to choose goodness, to repent, reform and receive the new life, the salvation that Jesus offers. It is the news of redemption and of God’s eternal love. God’s love first became visible in the flesh in Bethlehem. Nothing can change it, and nothing can ever take it away from us.
May you have a blessed Christmas.