On my first visit to New York City, I had the pleasure of being among the many tourists who flock to Manhattan for the holiday season. New York City is one of the busiest and most picturesque cities as it prepares for the Christmas season. Many attractions huddle within blocks of each other. The holiday shops at Bryant Park are busy with vendors and ice skaters, the tree at Rockefeller Center is lit up surrounded by the most beautiful angels sounding their trumpets, and the line outside Radio City Music Hall is out the door waiting for the Rockettes to perform in their Radio City Christmas Spectacular. All these attractions and festivities bring a certain joy to the city.
Taking in all the sights and sounds of the city, I stumbled upon 5th Avenue and 51st St. I saw a large bronze statue of the ancient Greek god Atlas, struggling under the painful weight of the heavens on his shoulders. Atlas faces the front entrance of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, one of the most beautiful and identifiable Neo-Gothic churches in the world. In St. Patrick’s I looked heaven-ward, gazing at the beautiful vaulted ceiling. Behind the baldacchino is a smaller, simpler, inconspicuous statue. It is the statue of the Christ-child wrapped in a cope with one hand in a posture of blessing and the other holding the earth and all of creation in the palm of his hand. It serves as a gentle reminder that when humanity begins to turn toward the preoccupations of the world, humanity suffers under its weight and remains stunted and enslaved to base passions and concerns that make life difficult. When a soul becomes enraptured by the Word made flesh, the burdens, drudgeries, sufferings, and even death itself is made light by the Messiah, the Son of the Most High. St. Basil the Great explains it well:
“God on earth, God among men, not in the fire and to the accompaniment of trumpets, not on the smoking mountain…giving laws, but communing in bodily form, gently and kindly, with those like himself. God in flesh…so that, related to us by his flesh, he can lead all mankind back to God.”
God is at work in the midst of global and national events just as he is in our daily lives, leading and guiding us onward through these steppingstones toward eternity. We pray for our nation, ourselves, and our neighbors on this Christmas day and throughout the Christmas season.
O come, O come Emmanuel, give us your joy and peace on this earthly pilgrimage and lead us to that heavenly kingdom to enjoy you, our only perfect and lasting happiness, face to face for all eternity.