Merry Christmas! Dear readers, I hope you are celebrating the incarnation of our God in style, with joy and laughter and good food and good cheer, surrounded by people you love. I awoke this morning in my childhood bed, in my parents’ home, and will gather around the tree with my siblings and nieces. For us it is a day of feasting and fun and a Christmas much like any other. Vigil has been kept, Advent observed, and now it is time to celebrate the Christ child.
In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.
But for some, this is a dark Christmas, no holy day of joy. In these plague times, there are many—more numerous online than out in the country—who have let fear prevent them from celebrating as this festival demands. I do not mean those who, having counted the social costs and weighed all medical concerns, prudently limit some features of their parties. I mean those for whom it is an offense that you and I might in fact treat this Christmas like any other. There are some for whom the dreary chants, rituals, and attire of Covid-mitigation have been a kind of balm for their soul. They find comfort in the man-made crisis, with all its rules and terror. And as I think of all these poor souls in the midst of their dark winter, here at the end of Advent, I recall this poem by Christina Rossetti.
Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.
What those who cling to Covid find in this misery is the resolution of a long-carried tension. The world is fallen, and the human being a broken animal, but our dominant culture presupposes blank-slate goodness and worldly perfectibility. Many people believe this deep inside themselves even as they confess a creed that admits of human sinfulness or earthly scarcity; they are normal, fully acculturated, socially conditioned, and so they live lives of desperate optimism, unconscious of their need for grace. But this faith demands that they ignore the daily evidence of their eyes and the constant testimony of their own hearts—their own shortfalls, weakness, and desire.
Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.
Covid offered a solution to this inner contradiction. Now at last in the midst of pandemic there is clearly something wrong with the world, and it is obvious that other people are dangerous, violators of the rules, cut off from righteousness. But this truth, finally acknowledged, does not have to be reflected in them, as sons of Adam and daughters of Eve. No, they now have a guide to purity, a law that will set them apart from the unclean, so that they can be the good and not the bad. They can admit they have been expelled from Eden without confessing that they have sinned, are sinners, in need of a Savior.
Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.
Woe for them and some woe for us, for this pandemic—the cultural event of media and regulations, not the endemic virus—will not go away without a fight, idol that it has become. But we have good news: that though the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now, its Savior has come. The Incarnation is a promise of new creation and the redemption and reconciliation of the old. It declares that though there is sin and sickness, there is also grace and life abundant. So, dear readers, a very Merry Christmas to you. The law is fulfilled, death overcome, eternity breaks into history, in the son of Mary in a manger in Bethlehem.
What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.
about the author
Micah Meadowcroft is managing editor of The American Conservative. He is also a 2021-22 Robert Novak journalism fellow for the Fund for American Studies. Before joining TAC he served as White House Liaison at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and assisted in speechwriting there. He holds an MA in social science from the University of Chicago, where he wrote on political theory. Previously, he worked as associate editor of the Washington Free Beacon. This is his second stint at TAC, as not so long ago he was an editorial assistant for the magazine. His BA is in history from Hillsdale College, where he also minored in journalism. Micah hails from the Pacific Northwest, and like Odysseus hopes to return home someday after long exile in the East.