‘The devil confounded’: What Christmas really means

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Man, is secular Christmas a drag! I don’t know how these people do it. I don’t know how I did it for all those years. All the frantic spending and strained merriment is liked being trapped in of those seasonal Hallmark Channel flicks except played in reverse — it’s at the end that you can’t stand each other.

And for what? Some pablum about “the spirit of giving” or “spreading love”? Just call me a grinch. And not in the charming Dr. Seuss way, either. The endless assault of prepackaged joy leaves me feeling like the bloated, horrifying, self-loathing Jim Carrey version.

The good news is, well, the Good News. And the victory of the cross starts in the manger. I like to turn off my modern science brain if only for a moment and try to imagine looking down at this crib. What’s in there? Not some tedious Union Theological Seminary metaphor about how we treat “homeless brown immigrants” but a literal God-baby. Think about that the next time you hold a baby. It will blow your mind.

“Behold a new and wondrous mystery.” That’s how church father St. John Chrysostom opened his Christmas Day homily at Antioch in 386. It’s well worth reading in its entirety, which you can do here. But more people coming over later, and you have to clean up all this wrapping paper and root through the coffee grounds for the batteries you accidentally threw out, so I’m going to respect your time and just give you an excerpt. Merry Christmas and God bless.

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What shall I say! And how shall I describe this Birth to you? For this wonder fills me with astonishment. The Ancient of days has become an infant. He Who sits upon the sublime and heavenly Throne, now lies in a manger. And He Who cannot be touched, Who is simple, without complexity, and incorporeal, now lies subject to the hands of men. He Who has broken the bonds of sinners, is now bound by an infants bands. But He has decreed that ignominy shall become honor, infamy be clothed with glory, and total humiliation the measure of His Goodness.

For this He assumed my body, that I may become capable of His Word; taking my flesh, He gives me His spirit; and so He bestowing and I receiving, He prepares for me the treasure of Life. He takes my flesh, to sanctify me; He gives me His Spirit, that He may save me.

Come, then, let us observe the Feast. Truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the Nativity. For this day the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death is broken, paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed from us, error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused, and spreads on every side, a heavenly way of life has been ¡in planted on the earth, angels communicate with men without fear, and men now hold speech with angels.

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