Quote of the Day, or Merry Christmas II

The twilight deepens. Mary and Joseph descend the hill …

…They find the Cave, a stable-cave, a sort of grotto with an erection before it, so common in those lands, by which depth and coolness are both obtained. The Arab builds in preference in front of a cave, because half his dwelling is thus built for him from the first. The cavern seems to draw them, like a spell. Souls are strangely drawn, and to strangest things and places, when they come once within the vortex of a divine vocation. There are the lights, and songs, and music of the crowded village above them, turning into festival the civil obligation which has brought such unwonted numbers thither. Beneath that gay street, a poor couple from Nazareth have sought refuge with the ox and the ass in the stable.

What is about to happen there? It must be differently described, according to the points of view which consider it. Angels would say that some of God’s eternal decrees were on the eve of being accomplished in the most divine and beautiful ways, and that the invisible King was about to come forth and take visible possession of a kingdom, not narrower than a universe, with such pomp as the spiritual and godlike angels most affect. The magistrate in Bethlehem would say, that, at the time of the census, a pauper child had been added to the population by a houseless couple who had come from Nazareth, noting perhaps that the couple were of good family but fallen into poverty. This would be the way in which world would register the advent of its Maker. It is a consistent world, only an unteachable one. It has learnt nothing by experience. It registers Him in the same manner this very day.

Let us go forth upon the slopes, and watch the night darkening, and think of the great earth that lies both near and far away from this new and obscure sanctuary, which God is about to hallow with such an authentic consecration. Much of earth is occupied with Roman business. Couriers are hastening to and fro upon the highways of the empire. The affairs of the vast colonies are giving employment and concern to many statesmen and governors. The great city of Rome itself is the centre of an intellectual and practical activity, which makes itself felt in the furthest extremities of the empire. Upon some minds, and especially those of a more philosophical cast, the growth of moral corruption, and other grave social questions, are weighing heavily. There are lawyers also intent upon their pleadings. Huge armies, which are republics in themselves, are fast rising to be the lawless masters of the world.

But nowhere in that vast world of Roman politics does there seem to be a trace of the Cave of Bethlehem. No prophetic shadows are cast visibly on the scene. All things wear a look of stability. The system, ponderous as it is, works like a well-constructed machine. No one is suspecting anything. It would not be easy for the world to be making less reference to God than it was making then. No one was on the look-out for a divine interference, unless it were that here and there some truth-stammering oracle perturbed a narrow circle, whose superstition was the thing likest religion of all things in the heathen world. In the palace of the Caesars, who suspected that unborn Caesar in his cave? …

from Bethlehem (1860), by Frederick William Faber.