What child is this? The story of a vulnerable baby has rarely resonated more powerfully than this Christmas Eve. In Newtown, Conn., last week, President Obama raised the old questions that also resonate with new force: “Why are we here?” he asked, invoking all the world’s religions. “What gives our life meaning? What gives our acts purpose?” After noting the difficulties of “groping through the darkness,” the president concluded, “There’s only one thing we can be sure of, and that is the love we have for our children. . . The warmth of a small child’s embrace. That is true.” Christmas is the world-wide feast of that very warmth and that very truth.
Strikingly, in the earliest of the four Gospel explanations of Jesus as a source of meaning and purpose, there is no Nativity narrative, no child in the manger, no star in the sky. Instead, the Gospel of Mark, written around the year 70, begins with Jesus as a mature figure encountering John the Baptist, ready to take on the tyrant Herod Antipas and his Roman sponsors.