St. Justin Martyr

The Silent Night of Fecundity


Easter is dramatic, and the narrative from Palm Sunday to the Ascension is laden with more twists and turns and ups and downs than anything Aeschylus or even Shakespeare could think up. And there is noise—from the cheers of Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem to the jeers of his crucifixion; even the earth quaked at the Resurrection.  On Pentecost, too, “a sound came from heaven,” and soon multiple tongues were filling the air with proclamations of the message that would change the world for ever. When we come to Christmas, however, there is silence.

Long before the unsettling drama and glory of Easter and the vocal responsibilities of Pentecost, we find a hushed atmosphere around the manger of Bethlehem. And yet something equally moving is before us.  When a child is born, we are urged to be still; the child cannot talk, and adults find themselves to be tongue-tied, or reduced to imitating high-pitch baby blather. And so it is with Christmas. For the mystery of the night Christ was born is a night of the Father, as much as Easter was a morning of the Son, and Pentecost a day of the Spirit.

The Father is God in his most recondite and ineffable recesses. He is the mystery before whom we ultimately fall silent. But also in the face of every newborn child we see a mystery that makes us gaze and wonder. At Christmas, God ordained to show his very own power and glory in the face of the Christ-Child. And what is the mystery in this face? What is this secret of the Father?

It is, I submit, fecundity. Whenever we wander close to the matrix of a new human life, we are in the presence of a power far beyond us. Our words falter, and in desperation, even turn vulgar (don’t our worst profanities all have to do with procreation?). This is why we have always instinctively felt that sex ought not to be discussed in the open, not because it is bad, but because it is too good and too near to God’s own trinitarian mystery to be entrusted to our careless chatter.

The eternal Birth of the Son in the Spirit is the very mystery of the Trinity. The Son’s temporal birth in Bethlehem marks the beginning of the mystery of  Redemption, and that mystery is extended through history only when we allow him to be born also in us. Christmas is all about birth, buds of life and babies. It reminds us that God is alive and that love of life is the beginning of love of God. And only silence has space enough to accommodate the immensity of the miracle.

One day this boy will begin to speak, but the greater part of his time on Earth will be passed in silence, beginning in Nazareth and even during his years of preaching. The sermons of Jesus were not long or frequent. It’s true that a good number of his words were remembered by the apostles and evangelists and passed on to us in the Gospels; but they were just sparks from the Fire that he was, a divine Fire that only shown for a spell on Earth because it shines forever in eternity. And its supreme mystery is this silent fecundity, like the burning bush in the desert of Sinai, that burned but was never consumed. More important than the words Christ spoke was the Word that he was. Everything worth saying is said in the Being of him who is Truth itself.


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