On the Mystery of Christmas from Edith Stein

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Edith Stein, the philosopher, nun and saint, recommends in her essay “The Mystery of Christmas” in a spiritual yet practical way that it would be good to live our daily life with a constant awareness of the awesomeness of the true meaning of Christmas, as found in the book Writings of Edith Stein (Trans. Hilda Graef.  Peter Owen Limited: London. 1956).  She says, “We have time for so many useless things: we read senseless rubbish in books, periodicals and newspapers, sit in cafes and chat for a quarter or half an hour in the street.  All these are distractions by which one wastes time and strength.”(p.29)  It seems that her point here is not that socializing is bad at all, but that people who claim not to have time to contemplate God in their life, freely spend their time in other ways.  She continues, “Should it really be impossible to save an hour in the morning in which one is not distracted but recollected, in which one does not spend oneself but gathers strength sufficient to carry one through the whole day?”(p.29) Socrates said the unexamined life is not worth living, and we can think here, what better way to make one’s life worth living but by spending time daily examining it in communication with God?  She says, “Thus, being a child of God means to become small and at the same time to become great…The sacrifice of the Mass impresses on us time and again the central mystery of faith, the pivot of the world’s history, the mystery of the Incarnation and Redemption…The Christian mysteries are an indivisible whole…If we become immersed in one, we are led to all the others…from the crib to the Cross.”(p.31)  The mystery of the Incarnation is the central mystery that gives meaning to our lives: God is in us.

Stein expands on the mystery of the Incarnation saying, “If God is in us, and if He is love, then it cannot be otherwise than that we love the [our] brethren.  Therefore our love of men is the measure of our love of God.”(p.29)  Man is not the measure of all things as Protagoras said, but rather what Stein is saying here is that God’s love is the true measure of all things and our love for God is judged by our love for all people, including unborn persons.  She distinguishes between natural love and Christian love saying, “But it [God’s love] is different from the natural love of men.  The natural love is given to this or that person who is united to us by a blood relationship or is near to us because our characters are akin or we have common interests.” (p.25) In other words, we often put limits on our love, we naturally tend toward the persons whom we prefer for whatever preference we may have.   Stein compares this to how we might sometimes act, saying, “The others are ‘strangers’ who do not concern us, whose character we may even loath, so that we keep them as much as possible at a distance.  For the Christian there is no stranger.”(p.25)  During Christmas the Christian remembers the radical love to which he is called: to be concerned for all persons daily.  Stein continues, “Whoever is near us and needing us most is our ‘neighbour’; it does not matter whether he is related to us or not, whether we like him or not, whether he is morally worthy of our help or not.  The love of Christ knows no limits.”(p.25)  Human natural love puts up limits, whereas God’s love is unlimited.  Stein says, ” It never ends, it does not shrink from ugliness and filth.  He came for sinners not for the just.  And if the love of Christ is in us, we shall do as He did and seek the lost sheep.”(p.26)  We are the lost sheep every time we fail to love God as we should, which is why we needed the Incarnation.  Stein gives us hope saying, “If we place our hands into the hands of the divine Child, if we say our Yes to His Follow Me, then we are His, and the way is free for His divine Life to flow into us.  This is the beginning of eternal life in us.”(p.24)  We should try to have appreciation, gratitude, for all things in this life whether good or “bad,” they are all Providential and for our eternal benefit, if we try to love like God to the best of our ability all of the time.   Stein says, if we do this, “It is not yet the beatific vision in the light of glory;  it is still the darkness of faith; but it is no longer of this world, it means living in the kingdom of God.”(p.24)

The person of faith lives in the world physically but understands the meaning of the events of his life from a transcendent spiritual perspective of the Divine Will.  Stein continues saying that, “This kingdom began on earth when the blessed Virgin spoke her “Be it unto me,” and she was its first handmaid. The divine life that is kindled in the soul is the light that has come into the darkness, the miracle of the Holy Night…God in us and we in Him, this is our share in God’s kingdom, which is founded on the Incarnation.”(p.24)  The Incarnation inaugurated the beginning of a new chance in human history for all persons to learn to love like God by imitating Jesus Christ, by loving without limits, without strangers, and without fear.  As Stein says, “For this is the marvelous thing about the human race, that we are all one.”(p.24) Christmas is the season to reflect more deeply upon the mystery of God becoming human so that we may be at peace with each other on Earth and that one day we may share in eternal life, in eternal happiness, with Him, forever and ever, in Heaven.

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