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Celebrating the conception of Jesus?

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Dec 31, 2020

I received Another Inevitable Wild Email today, this one ranting on about how the celebration of Christmas in the Church’s liturgical language is tantamount to heresy, because it is not at the time of His birth that Christ came to earth as our Redeemer, but at the time of His conception within Mary, presumably nine months earlier. This, I suppose, is an unintended consequence of our sensitivity to the question of conception because of the prevalence of the sin of abortion. Still, taking it to its logical conclusion, I also suppose we must cease our useless celebration of birthdays in favor of celebrating conception days.

Or not. As a matter of significant human reality, the birth of a child is the natural and normal time for celebration, the first moment in which we can at last see the child and begin to get to know the child: The moment of that child’s emergence onto the human stage, the beginning of the baby’s interaction with a human family and with all who will come to know him and be influenced by him. For this reason it is the birth which is the fullness of the child’s entrance into our history—the focal point of our expectations, the joy of our hearts.

It is completely appropriate, therefore, that the Church mirrors our own human instinct to mark Christ’s birth as the consummate moment of His entry into human affairs, which becomes the principal focus of celebration through the years. The conception is silent and all but secret. In Christ’s case, it was known by two non-Divine persons (Gabriel and Mary), and in our own cases it is brought about by two non-Divine persons (the father and the mother) in a moment shrouded in secrecy, a moment which we typically identify only by way of an educated guess—assuming we bother to try to figure it out at all.

In the limitations of our own human personhood, we celebrate not what is hidden but what we see, not the day of conception but the day of birth. And to that birth, by which the baby fully enters among us, we ascribe all the hope and promise of the person. It is through neither an error nor an obstruction of the truth, but rather through a sublime poetic license, that the Church ascribes to Christ’s birth all the fullness of the promises and the hopes connected with His coming among us as our Redeemer.

As real men and real women, we need never shrink from this celebration of the nativity, neither of our own children nor of Christ Himself. It is the visible child, the child at last “delivered” to us, who becomes the subject of our hopes and fears, our joys and sorrows, in an extraordinarily powerful way that is first fully human, and now fully Divine. There is no reason—no good reason at all—to make endless distinctions in the midst of such tremendous happiness.

The Annunciation is not insignificant, and the Church rightly celebrates it. But the focal point of Christ’s coming is His Nativity, as everyone who has had a child already knows—and as the Magi also knew, and the shepherds knew, and the angel choirs knew. It is just this concentration of the history of our salvation into this single intensely human point that makes Christmas what it is, and what it is supposed to be.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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  • Posted by: nix898049 - Jan. 04, 2021 7:48 PM ET USA

    Like you said, we don't ignore the Annunciation. And I agree entirely with you on the significance of Christmas. But Our culture is now more excited about announcing the expectation of a grandson or granddaughter, not a grandCHILD. And then there are the reveal parties. If Jesus wanted to make a humble entrance he certainly picked the right time! I've always loved the phrase, In the fullness of time.

  • Posted by: christosvoskresye5324 - Jan. 04, 2021 5:17 PM ET USA

    I would like to see the Annunciation made a holy day of obligation. Beyond that, there are some interesting parallels between Christ hidden in the womb (with a few moments of revelation -- the Annunciation and Visitation) and Christ hidden in the home (with a few moments of revelation -- the Nativity and the Finding in the Temple). I feel confident these parallels are important, but I do not see what they mean.