The Christmas When Everybody Was There

The soldiers were scattered across Europe with the loneliness of war. The world was caught up in a total struggle. Women had gone to the factories; children were collecting scrap metal. The “war effort” was universal. In many places, food was rationed. The madhouse of consumption belonged only to the war; everything else could wait. And there was Christmas. Hollywood and Tin Pan Alley were part of the effort as well, cranking out songs that have never gone away. The mood was one of deep sentimentality and hope. “I’ll be home for Christmas,” the radios played, and soldiers wept.

Being born in the early 50’s, I grew up in the cultural aftermath of the Second World War. The adults had not recovered from the experience and continued to remember it actively, even passionately. When rationing ended in Britain in 1954, there were those who felt that something important had been lost. At one point, the Labour Party had argued for indefinite rationing. The commonality of shared suffering, it seemed, was a stronger bond than the commonality of shared prosperity. Interesting that.

No one was nostalgic for the war itself. The fighting, bombing and the certainty of death and injury were gladly left behind. But the common bond of a common effort remained a lively part of a generation’s memory. The stories only ended when they were laid to rest. The nostalgia, I think, was for the commonality, an experience that banished loneliness and gave meaning to even the smallest actions. The prosperity that followed was hollow. For what purpose do we now shop?

Commonality is a fundamental part of life in a healthy world. It is akin to love itself and an extension of self-sacrifice. It is a world in which we receive far more than we give. It is also something that lies at the heart of the classical Christian account of salvation. We are saved within an act of inexhaustible and all-encompassing commonality in the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ. Unless those events are seen through the lens of commonality, they cannot be understood.

St. Paul describes Christ as the “Second Adam.” He does not mean by this that Christ is merely a “do-over,” a second start for humanity. Rather, as an Adam, He is a summary and “re-capitulation” of the whole of humanity. The name “Adam,” in Hebrew, also means “man.” It is the term for our collective humanity as well as the man, Adam. As Second Adam, Christ is the new Man, but also a collective new Man. It is this that is referenced by St. Paul when he says that we should put off the old man and put on the new (Col. 3:9-10).

The Virgin is more than the one who carries the Christ Child in her womb; she is also the source of His humanity. He “took flesh” of the Virgin Mary (σαρκωθέντα ἐκ Πνεύματος Ἁγίου καὶ Μαρίας τῆς παρθένου), the Creed tells us. That “flesh” should not be seen as an isolated reference to biological meat. It is everything that constitutes our humanity: “and was made man” (ἐνανθρωπήσαντα). The reality of our humanity, whether of the First Adam or the Second, is collective.

In the Orthodox tradition, the two Sundays before Christmas are set aside to commemorate the Holy Forefathers, and the Holy Ancestors. It is a recognition that in the flesh of Mary is the flesh of many generations, indeed, the gathering of all flesh. It is a recognition that in the faith of Mary is the faith of the generations that have gone before as well. Christ has come for us, in us, that with us in Him, He might live, die and live again and we as well. This is the true fullness of Christmas.

In this true story of Christmas, everyone comes home. We are all there. We are united together in Christ in the common struggle that is our salvation. This war in which we live is the only true World War, and perhaps greater than that. Its outcome has long ago been determined in Christ but it remains something to be lived and fulfilled in us.

We’ll be home for Christmas. Christ is born. Glorify Him.

 

 

 

 

 

11 comments:

  1. Christ is born!
    The commonality of shared suffering creates strong bonds even today, in the smallest expressions of shared effort and struggle. Growing up in the 80s I would hear the excuse that some parents who had live through rationing wanted their children to have it all. There are multiple reasons to why we consume so unnecessarily much, and guilt or emptiness is one of them.

    On a day like Christmas Eve, I like to see the movement, even from secular societies, away from yet more stuff to the search for the meaning of the most important event in the history of mankind. Partly due to Dickensian influences, partly due to memory of Paradise – we all have it.

    Blessed Christmas to you Father and to your glorious readers.

  2. Thank you Fr. Stephen for this meditation. Yes, commonality in our suffering…none in shopping.
    I remember that right after 9/11 both parties joined hands across the aisle and sang, “God bless America.” And everywhere I went I saw American flags unfurled. Yet, it was short-lived.
    Thank God in Christ that our commonality in Him is eternal…that our brotherhood in Christ is everlasting. That God in Christ, through our blessed mother Mary, took flesh and became one with us, and we one with Him…united with Him and one another. Patriotic feelings wax and wane, but ours is an ever-abiding union through the Spirit.
    Merry Christmas to all…truly, Christ is born!

  3. When I was living in Edinburgh Scotland, the bath water was shared. I asked other friends, from England, the reason behind this unusual custom. They told me that bath water was rationed during the war (Couldn’t be above ankle height.) but that no one has done this for years. From your post, I now see this action as relatively symbolic. Europeans may be post Christian, but their view of reality and symbolism has an almost Orthodox (They once were.) relationship to one another. Because of this their history will never be forgotten.

  4. Thank you Fr. Stephen for this meditation. Yes, commonality in our suffering, hence compassion for each other, humility, and certainly no judging. We are indeed “united together in Christ in the common struggle that is our salvation.” Blessed Christmas to all! Christ is born! Glorify Him!

  5. “This war in which we live is the only true World War, and perhaps greater than that [Much Greater!]. Its outcome has long ago been determined in Christ but it remains something to be lived and fulfilled in us.”

    Oh thank you for this wonderful post, Father!
    A blessed Christmas to you and to all.

    “For unto us a Child is born,
    Unto us a Son is given”
    Christ is born! Glorify Him!

  6. I was there and indeed every one “did their bit”…..
    and baths were rationed to one a week for adults!Not much soap on the ration,anyway.
    It was a collective effort with tips for coping with shortages in the newspapers rather than fashion advice. Austerity was the watchword. It made for discipline in housekeeping ever after.

  7. Fighting the good fight, ongoing
    God bless you Father
    Glorify Him!
    “I am with you always” — so much of the Incarnation really hinges on Christ’s experience of what we experience and so we know He is truly with us at all times, especially the darkest and bleakest of times when we seem to be abandoned, He remains Emmanuel, God with us

  8. “But there is only one peace which is accompanied by benevolence, that which is given by the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, perfect and immutable, to the whole of the human race and to all those who desire it. (…) Let us be at peace with ourselves by submitting the flesh to the spirit, choosing a way of life that is given to our conscience and moving the inner world of our thoughts with measure and saintly. For this is how we put an end to the real civil war, the one that takes place in ourselves. “(Gregory Palamas – homily for the Nativity)
    He is born with our flesh, what wonder, what a gift! Yes, glorify it!
    Blessed time for all, and thank you, Father Stephen, for your inspiring meditations ….

  9. Commonality. “The commonality of shared suffering, (enemy outside-war) it seemed, was a stronger bond than the commonality of shared prosperity (enemy within)”. Man needs You Precious Jesus!
    Thank You Father. Marry Christmas.

  10. Christ is Born Glorify Him!

    This is a really interesting article Father.

    As a human race we have shared in the most dreadful events in human history. Our common fallen human nature has explored and dwelt on so much evil, and experienced such a loss of grace due to the abuse of this gift of commonality given to us originally to commune with God and fellow human beings. Wars bring out the best and worst of our humanity.

    As Christians we never cease in celebrating the birth, death and resurrection of Christ daily. However, the Church calendar re-emphasises on specific days the importance of not only the remembrance of these events, but also to live those events.

    We are called to be the Magi who presented gifts to Christ; the shepherds who received the good news; the angels who proclaimed the Good News; the manger which received Christ as did the cave also; and dare I say the Virgin Mary who gave birth to Him.

    We proclaim His Birth in the flesh as we share a new commonality renewed within us by His perfect body and blood. We share in His perfect Humanity so that our imperfections may be blotted out and allow for our transformation into christs (gods) by grace.

    The invisible God and Logos became visible knowing that He would suffer, and that He would have to suffer and die as a Human Being in order to perfect our human nature with His resurrection.

    There is an innate want in human beings in time of need and suffering to share and to do good. But the moment suffering disappears and other things seep in, such as commercialism; excessive living; love of money, we tend to grow cold and we forget our original God-like calling to be according to His image and likeness.

    Our new commonality in Christ which is also mentioned in the scriptures talks about a much higher standard than ever before. Christ was apocalyptic in His preaching just as the Church is today. We are called to follow not just a way of life but to be a part of the Life of Christ; we are called to be light to the world; the salt of the earth and as Christ said , one with Christ.
    Our true commonality is the life we share with Christ and the rest of humanity, and not wanting that anyone should be lost. But to do this, Christ must be born within our hearts, and we must be crucified with Him as well as resurrected.
    We must not fear suffering. If we are true Christians we will almost certainly suffer for Christ and a large part of this involves to die to our old selves. Put to death the old person of corruption and sin. There was once an old saying that I heard which I believe originated from Mount Athos: “you must die before you die, so that you don’t die, when you do die”. This is the road of repentance and transformation only possible by taking up our own personal cross, and we will struggle along the way.
    However we are not alone on this road since we are compelled to help each other, and of course, Christ is in our midst!

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