All Our Choices, & the Choice of Love: A Christmas Reflection
“And the Word became flesh …”
A Christmas Reflection Now? Christmas is Over!
For traditional Christians, the Christmas season lasts a good while. Though we do not sing Christmas carols or decorate until its beginning on December 25, we will then be found celebrating and singing carols over the next month, when Christmas is all but forgotten in the malls. February 2 definitively ends the season with the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. I only say this by way of explaining why Christmas is still on my mind after it has long faded from the storefronts.
Incarnation: the Limitation of the Unlimited
Christmas is a celebration of the incarnation of God. God – that which is unborn and undying, which transcends all created phenomena, who is unlimited potential – becomes enfleshed in a singular human life, in a particular time, a particular place, among a particular people. The union of time and eternity. Though abounding in significance, this is admittedly a strange proclamation.
Contemporary Western Life and Choices, Choices, Choices
Contemporary western life presents us with a dizzying array of possibilities and choices to make. From the chockablock shelves of stores with a billion products vying for our attention, to larger decisions about places to live, people to keep company with, political and social opinions to embrace, we live constantly under the pretense of choice. Though the bulk of these choices are due to our privileged place in the world, and cannot even be on the radar for most, it would be hard to convince anyone of the evil of it all, though one could certainly argue the pettiness and even the charade of most of these choices so-called. To be sure, no one wants to feel trapped; evil situations need to be addressed.
Yet, the paradox of Christmas bears an incredibly productive significance here. When choices lead merely to other choices – when they are not allowed to take flesh and so do not make for a consequential, particular life – can we say that they are choices at all? When we understand choice to be our ticket out of particularity – away from particular families, particular spouses, particular communities, particular religions, and particular places – then the only choice we are making is not to choose at all. Real choices limit more than they liberate. Each “yes” we say to one thing is a resounding “no” to a million other things. Yet real intimacy – with spouses, with places, with religious paths – can only come through that limitation.
Love Can Only Be Particular
We cannot care for and love universal abstractions, but only particularities. One might think here of the ambitious person who, feeling it is her mission to achieve great things for the sake of “humanity,” steamrolls every particular person who might stand in her way. We may think of the man who makes sonorous declarations of his love for womankind, but when it comes to particular women, he has little more in his repertoire than to exploit them for his own gratification. We can only love humanity in particular persons. I can only love womankind by loving and respecting my wife. This principle holds true in all aspects of life, such as in a concern for the environment. We can care for the environment only in particular environments. When particularity becomes particularly challenging, when particular things cease merely to serve my whims, this is when my choosing takes on the most flesh. It is then that choice becomes real; it is then that the choice to remain, to nourish, to participate, really becomes a choice, and a choice made in love.
To Love or Not to Love? That is the Question
Christmas, the celebration of the incarnation of God, points to what is at stake in choosing. Perhaps it would be better to say that Christmas reminds us of how love – the desire to transcend oneself for the sake of the beloved – moves our choosing. To choose is to limit one’s horizons for the sake of that love. To love or not to love? To remain, to nourish, and to participate or merely to exploit and run? Perhaps these, in the end, are the only real choices we ever make.
They are certainly the most important.
Come Pray With Us
We invite you to practice the choice of love here at Mons Nubifer Sanctus, a Christian spiritual retreat center focused on one-on-one and small group formation in the Christian spiritual life. Join a silent retreat and prepare to receive your Lord through a deep practice of contemplative prayer.