Tiny Tim and King Herod

Tiny Tim and King Herod

by Michael D. O’Brien
Advent has begun, the time of waiting when we turn toward the coming dawn with renewed expectancy. Each year in the liturgical cycle we are invited to pray with the entire Church for the rebirth of Christ within the stable of our hearts, and for the graces we will need as we await his final coming. The scripture readings are about hope arising in the midst of darkness, of beginnings and endings and the eternal joy when there will be no more endings. Until that ultimate homecoming, we live in a world that is still in the process of being restored in Christ. The Christ Child is among us, and so is Herod.

Every year or so I read aloud to my children Charles Dickens’ great classic, A Christmas Carol. Most of our six have also reread it quietly to themselves and watched the three better known film versions of it.  There are always new lights to be found in just about any Dickens novel,  and the Carol is no exception. You find yourself laughing at something which last year you found not in the least funny; this year you’re choking back a sob where last year you were left untouched. A detail, a turn of phrase, a stroke of the authorial brush and the great drama of human life is revealed as something very mysterious, containing much comedy, tragedy, and a whole lot more hidden glory than we suppose is there. The story is deceptively simple. It’s about choices, about fear, family, riches and poverty, and isolation overcome by mercy. Divine mercy and human mercy. Mr. Scrooge, of course, is the archetypical person completely turned in upon himself, resentful of the endless neediness of humanity, defending his power and possessions with an array of “reasonable” self-justifications. As Christmas approaches, Mr. Scrooge regards his employee Bob Cratchit with contempt, believes that he has too many children, and that it is his (Bob’s) recklessness in this regard that has locked him into a life of servitude and grinding poverty. Bob’s crippled son Tiny Tim is one of the more unfortunate aspects of the Cratchit’s plight, thinks Scrooge, who feels not a whiff of sympathy.

In an introduction to an early edition of the book, G. K. Chesterton wrote, “The answer to anyone who talks about the surplus population is to ask him whether he is the surplus population, or if he is not, how he knows he is not.”

Many modern people, deluded by “over-population” propaganda, infected with fear and loneliness, would agree with Scrooge that Bob Cratchit and his wife are polluting the planet with too many little Cratchits. Surely, they would say, Bob could have used a more reliable form of birth control! If he wasn’t so selfish he would have had a vasectomy long ago. Or maybe his wife should have had a tubal ligation. And an abortion or two before the surgery would have provided back-up protection, would have ensured an improved quality of life for their family. One wonders, also, what today’s genetic engineer would have to say about Tiny Tim. Would he become a candidate for selective genetics, early weeding out, organ harvesting, or fetal experimentation? And what about poor old Scrooge himself? Clearly, there’s a man from a dysfunctional family. If the quality of his life is no longer viable, should he not consider a self-determined “death with dignity?” Of course, if he is unable to make the decision, and has no next of kin to make it for him, the State will be there to ensure the process of legal, hygienic, and painless termination.

A strange society, ours. Utterly bizarre acts, radically evil acts, are now discussed in many circles as if they were reasonable options. In all of this rhetoric, modern man is searching desperately for solutions to his basic humanity, everywhere, that is, except where the only true answer can be found. He is grasping at hasty remedies for the sheer lavishness of life which the Lord saw fit to write into our flesh, and for the responsibilities that come with it. He has come to believe, consciously or subconsciously, that health, fertility, generosity, are problems that need to be limited, mutated, or controlled. Such a state of mind, on both the personal level and as the reigning attitude of a nation, is a recipe for disaster. “Where there is no wisdom, the people will perish,” says the author of Proverbs. “He who seeks to save his life will lose it,” says Jesus.

Millions of mute innocents (young and old) are slaughtered discreetly in the clinics and hospitals of our times. Their souls cry out to God. No matter how many idealistic theories about “quality of life” or “improving human nature” accompany the murder of a child or an old and ailing person, it remains murder, which by definition in all civilized societies is the taking of innocent life. A nation which permits it on a massive scale (such as ours), or on any scale whatsoever, is calling down divine justice upon its head. At the very least it needs, as Scrooge needed, an intervention that will shake it to the foundations.

The negation of God’s generosity is the mind of Herod. Herod, no doubt, had good arguments for the slaughter of the innocents, and I suspect that chief among his arguments would have been the necessity of preserving the good of the people, the economy, and the internal security of the nation, by which he meant his own crown. In contrast, the mind of Christ says something entirely different, and it is this: Each of us is a living icon made in His image and likeness, invited to an eternal festival of love. For each of us there is an invisible crown, if we choose to accept it; each is called to be a son or daughter of the King. Moreover, there is plenty of room in the King’s creation when it is used wisely, and there is infinite room in His eternal kingdom. But our society is making a world where there is no room. By this I do not mean the mere shrinking of space on a geopolitical or economic map. I mean that there is less and less room in the hearts of modern people.

If the world is becoming unfit for children, then we must change the world, not do away with children, for the elimination of children merely makes the world even more unfit to live in. A certain child born into utter weakness, into exile, into poverty, had something to say about this. He tells us that to exist is so wonderful—literally, so full of wonder—that however difficult our lives may be, we are called to rejoice always. It is true that for everyone there is a time to grieve and a time to lose all illusions of power and self-sufficiency, and a time to die. And, yes, there are moments when our burdens seem intolerable. But suffering is not the only word, indeed it is not even the most important word, although it is a necessary word.

Jesus felt all of this in his own flesh. His Mother felt it also. From the Annunciation to the birth at Bethlehem she suffered with her son and for him. Fleeing from Bethlehem into the desert, from the desert back to Nazareth, from Nazareth to Calvary—throughout it all, her sufferings increased until her heart was finally pierced with many swords, and in her dying gave birth once again. The Church was born on Calvary as the blood and water flowed from the wound in Christ’s heart, the heart which our Mother gave to the entire world for all generations.

This Christmas, let us pray with her:

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my savior,
For he has looked upon his servant in her lowliness;
all ages shall call me blessed.
God who is mighty has done great things for me;
holy is his name;
His mercy is from age to age
on those who fear him.”
Let us rejoice that a savior has been born to us.

And let us say in the words of Tim, “God bless us every one!”

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