CHRISTMAS WITH EVELYN UNDERHILL: Nativity

Nativity Evelyn Underhill

From The School of Charity

Nothing in this story, perhaps, is more significant than the quietness and simplicity of its beginning.  The birth of the Child, the Shepherds, and the Magi, the little boy of Nazareth and his wonderful experience in the Temple, and the long quiet years in the carpenter’s shop; there seems at first sight nothing very supernatural in these things.  Indeed, one of the most convicting aspects of Christianity, if we try to see it in terms of our own day, is the contrast between its homely and inconspicuous beginnings and the holy powers it brought into the world.  It keeps us in perpetual dread of despising small things, humble people, little groups.  The Incarnation means that the Eternal God enters our common human life with all the energy of his creative love, to transform it, to exhibit to us its richness, its unguessed significance; speaking our language, and showing us his secret beauty on our own scale.

Thus, the spiritual life does not begin in an arrogant attempt at some peculiar kind of other-worldliness, a rejection of ordinary experience.  It begins in the humble recognition that human things can be very holy, full of God; whereas high-minded speculations about his nature need not be holy at all.  Since all life is engulfed in him, he can reach out to us anywhere and at any level.  The depth and richness of his Eternal Being are unknown to us.  Yet Christianity declares that this unsearchable life, which is in essence a self-giving love, and is wholly present wherever it loves, so loved this world as to desire to reveal within it the deepest secret of his thought; appearing within and through his small, fugitive, imperfect creatures, in closest union with humanity.  In the beginning was the Word: and the Word was God, and without him was not anything made that hath been made: and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

That seems immense.  A complete philosophy is contained in it.  And then we come down to the actual setting of this supreme event, and at once all our notions of the suitable and the significant are set aside; all our pet values reversed.  A baby, just that; and moreover, a baby born in the most unfortunate circumstances.  The extremes of the transcendent and the homely are suddenly brought together in this disconcerting revelation of reality.  The hard life of the poor, its ceaseless preoccupation with the lowliest of human needs and duties, the absolute surrender and helplessness, the half-animal status of babyhood; all this is the chosen vehicle for the unmeasured inpouring of the Divine Life and Love.  So too the strange simplicity of its beginning both rebukes and reassures us.  It is like a quiet voice speaking in our deepest prayer: The Lord is with thee, and calling forth the one and only answer, Behold, the handmaid of the Lord, be it under me according to they Word!  Humble self-abandonment is found and declared to be enough to give us God.  First in one way and then in another, all the incidents which cluster round the mystery of the Incarnation seem designed to show us this; the simplest yet the deepest truth about his relation to the soul.

 

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