It has become customary to introduce a discussion of Christmas by disparaging the consumerism with which the feast has become so closely associated. The malls, the lines, the prices, the “Christmas Cheer”-scented Yankee candles … all fall prey to criticism in making way for the “reason for the Season.” To a certain extent, we can say, “Rightly so,” as there is no comparison between the event of two-thousand years ago and Western man’s paltry attempts to memorialize it with Pollyannas and Secret Santas, but on the other hand there seems to be a sense in which its unfitting to belittle the material on the feast celebrating God-made-man. While it is indeed most important and significant to call to mind the “spirit of Christmas” and seek through the season of Advent a closer and more honest adherence to the Lord Jesus, the material aspect of the feast ought not be swept aside.
One author who has especially captured the material implications of Christ’s coming is G. K. Chesterton. Singularly awed by the world with which he found himself surrounded, Chesterton was consistent in always attributing the goodness of creation not only to its having been created good and redeemed, but also to the saving action of the gaze of the Incarnate Lord elevating all things to their full stature. One can find evidence of this theme in his poetry especially.
When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born.
With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings
The devil’s walking parody
On all four-footed things.
The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.
Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears
And palms before my feet.
The conceit is plain. Chesterton chooses what many hold to be an awkward and ugly animal: the donkey. He then devotes the first three stanzas to having the animal reaffirm the common notion with self-deprecation. But, with the fourth stanza the mood changes and the donkey asserts itself and its true dignity. This creature was chosen to bear the Lord into Jerusalem. Its back has been graced by the Savior’s body. The barbs of the first three stanzas are no longer fitting.
In other poems, Chesterton gives praise to the flowers, the stars, and dust – to name just a few – all in light of Christ’s coming and presence during his earthly life. Precisely because Christ’s Passion has redeemed the created order, Chesterton reminds us with his poetry not to overlook the great dignity imparted to creation by the gaze of its Incarnate Maker.
Image: Library of Congress, Iraq, Men, Donkeys, River, Sun