At its roots, the word infant means “unable to speak.”
As with most holidays, Christmas generally has to it a theme of strong, joyful proclamation: “For Unto Us A Child Is Born,” “Joy to the World,” “Angels We Have Heard On High,” “Go Tell It On The Mountain,” etc. And this is all true, and very good, and very beautiful.
But there is also a silence to be contemplated. The wonderful silence in the stable when Mary and Joseph looked at Jesus for the first time. The Word Himself, God, the desire of all nations, physically took on silence, becoming a newborn human, an infant.
T.S. Eliot meditates upon this phenomenon (granted in nearly inscrutable fashion, as is his penchant. But try reading this passage aloud to gain the full effect):
If the lost word is lost, if the spent word is spent
If the unheard, unspoken
Word is unspoken, unheard;
Still is the unspoken word, the Word unheard,
The Word without a word, the Word within
The world and for the world;
And the light shone in darkness and
Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled
About the centre of the silent Word. (“Ash Wednesday,” V)
On this night, when the “Word without a Word” came to us, the world too fell silent. The book of Wisdom foretells the stillness of this night: “While all things were in quiet silence, and the night was in the midst of her course, Thy almighty Word leapt down from heaven, from Thy royal throne…into the midst of the land” (Wis. 18:14-15).
Take the time tonight, between all of the wonderful preparation and anticipation that marks this time, to sit quietly, in the company of Mary and Joseph, and contemplate this most wonderful, most quiet Gift we receive tonight. In a reflection on the meaning of this Gift, Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, O.C.D., writes:
Without [Jesus], man would not be able to call God by the sweet name of Father; he could not love Him as a son loves his father, nor could he hope to be admitted to His intimacy: there would be no grace, no Beatific Vision. Without Jesus, man would be imprisoned within the limits of a purely human life, deprived of every supernatural horizon, in time and in eternity.
O Incarnate Word, impress this lesson deeply in my heart and help me to understand the mysterious ways of Your love. You are coming to save and sanctify me, but You want to accomplish your work in me by means of the most humble, ordinary, and insignificant circumstances. Give me the humility, faith, and blind trust of Mary and Joseph, that I may know how to recognize and adore Your work, adhere to it with docility and love, and know that You love to surround Your works with humility, silence and secrecy.
Image: Geertgen tot Sint Jans, Nativity at Night