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G.K. Chesterton And Christmas

December 18, 2017 Frontpage No Comments

By JOHN YOUNG

It is not surprising that G.K. Chesterton wrote a great deal about Christmas, because he was fascinated by the wonder of childhood, and Christmas is about the wonder of a Divine Child.
Chesterton was a realist, and he saw realism exemplified in the outlook of the child, for no child doubts the reality of the world. Innocence, too, shines forth in the child. The child is fascinated by reality, a fascination that lessens as the child grows older.
As Chesterton puts it, a seven-year-old is thrilled if you tell him that Tommy opened a door and saw a dragon; but a three-year-old is thrilled if you tell him that Tommy opened a door. Unlike most of us, Gilbert Chesterton never lost the wonder he experienced as a child in the presence of everyday realities, never lost the child’s realism.
He is famous for his paradoxes; but there is no paradox greater than God becoming a human baby.
As he says in his wonderful book The Everlasting Man, part two, chapter one: “A mass of legend and literature, which increases and will never end, has repeated and rung the changes on that single paradox; that the hands that had made the sun and stars were too small to reach the huge heads of the cattle. Upon this paradox, we might almost say upon this jest, all the literature of our faith is founded.”
Reality is full of paradoxes, not only in relation to Christmas but all the time. Matter and spirit could hardly be further apart, yet each human being is composed from both. We live in time, yet are destined for eternity. The choices we make in life will determine whether we will have everlasting happiness in Heaven or everlasting sorrow in Hell. We are aided by a multitude of good angels and tempted by a multitude of evil angels.
These paradoxes may seem remote from daily life, although they are not; but the paradoxes surrounding Christmas are concrete and comforting. To quote Chesterton again from the same chapter: “It might be suggested, in a somewhat violent image, that nothing had happened in the fold or crack in the great grey hills except that the whole universe had been turned inside out. I mean that all the eyes of wonder and worship which had been turned outward to the largest thing now turned inward to the smallest.”
He points out that Christianity has connected two ideas that are not naturally or necessarily combined: the connection of God with an infant. He maintains that the Christian child who has experienced Christmas will be left with a psychological impression on his mind. Because of this, he claims, there is a difference between the person who has experienced Christmas and the one who has not.
“Omnipotence and impotence, or divinity and infancy, do definitely make a sort of epigram which a million repetitions cannot turn into a platitude. It is not unreasonable to call it unique. Bethlehem is emphatically a place where extremes meet.”
The outlook that develops from the reality of Christmas leads to a true humanism. To quote Chesterton again: “It would be vain to attempt to say anything adequate, or anything new, about the change which this conception of a deity born like an outcast or even an outlaw had upon the whole conception of law and its duties to the poor and outcast.”
Chesterton maintains that any agnostic or atheist who has experienced a real Christmas in his childhood retains ever afterward an association in his mind between the idea of a baby and the idea of the unknown strength that sustains the stars. That observation is particularly relevant today, with attempts to eliminate Christmas.
The reality celebrated at Christmas and conveyed in vivid imagery is in such sharp contrast to the secularism which aims to conquer the world that it must be seen by the secularists as their great enemy. And it presents a special danger to them at Christmas time because it confronts them so concretely there. So they do their best to erase Christmas from the calendar.
It is easy to become depressed and pessimistic as we see the spread of so much corruption in our world. But if we keep the realities of Christmas before us we will never give way to pessimism. God’s ultimate victory is certain.

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