There is an idea in Celtic Christian thought about the “thin veil,” that the presence of God is there before us, behind us, all around us – veiled by only the thinness of our attention. It has been that way since the Spirit of God hovered over the primordial waters and brought forth life.
“In the beginning was the Word,and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.”
It is ever there, always present, often missed. There are times when the veil melts away and we see the Light of God in our lives, in our dreams, and in the darkness of the world around us.
What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
St. Francis understood that the “thin veil” was pulled back when the Light came into the world as a child – born to Mary and Joseph, wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. Francis wanted the entire world to stop, pay attention and realize that the grace of God was living among us. He wanted us all to see the love of God and to join the angelic chorus: “Glory to God in the highest!”
And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.
So inspired, Francis created the crèche, that familiar image of the Holy Family with the infant Jesus at the center, surrounded by the animals with the shepherds looking on, and the wise men soon to arrive – all under the glow of the Star of Bethlehem. Francis created it in the little mountain village of Greccio to have the town’s people gather, pause and remember that day God came into the world to live among us. The most extraordinary thing piercing the thin veil in the most ordinary of circumstances.
The manger scene invites us to pause, rejoice in the moment, and realize that God so loved the world that he sent his only Son to live among and with us as one of us – to show just how much we are loved. That’s the Christmas message; pretty simple. We are loved.
True back when Quirinius was governor of Syria and the census took the Holy Family to Bethlehem. It was true when Francis celebrated Christmas in Greccio. It is true today in a world that can seem dark, difficult, and dangerous. We are loved – and not from afar – but up close and personal – all of us.
The thin veil between the divine and the earthly has been forever lifted. The manger reminds us that the presence of God is there before us, behind us, all around us – veiled by only the thinness of our attention. Christmas is a time in which our celebrations and liturgies remind us to be attentive. To look around at our family and friends, to look at the manger, to look at the Christ child, and remember: we are loved.
It really is all very simple. We are loved. And how will we respond to that love? Will we be attentive?
Creator of unfailing Light, let us attend to you that our voices ever praise you, our lives proclaim your goodness, and our work ever give you honor.