Throughout the [former] liturgy of the Christmas Vigil there resounds the song of Psalm 24 that celebrates Yahweh as the returning King: “Lift up, O gates, your lintels; be raised, you everlasting portals; for the King of glory wishes to enter” (Ps 24:7; offertory antiphon). Originally this song was probably chanted in the Temple of Jerusalem at the entrance procession with the sacred Ark. Or it may have been part of an entrance liturgy in which the gates of the Temple were symbolically commanded to open up to the King, that is, to God.
The liturgy treats the event of Bethlehem, as this solemn entry of the King; and the world itself, the entire globe, is his sanctuary, which is ordered to open wide its gates and let the Creator enter. The entrance and gospel antiphons take up the powerful prophecy of Moses in which he announces to the grumbling people the miracle of the manna in the desert: “This day you shall know that the Lord will come to save us, and tomorrow you shall see his glory” (Ex 16:6f.).
The event of Bethlehem is not a romantic little idyll: it is the universal turning point, encompassing heaven and earth: God no longer remains separated from us by the iron curtain of his untouchable transcendence; he has stepped across the dividing line to become one of us. From now on I will encounter him also in my neighbor, and any devotion that ignores the other would also fail God, who has adopted a human face.
All along, in pursuing this very notion in all its consequences, we will realize that, underneath the trivialized display of happiness about the God who became a child, there towers one of the great Christian concepts, which in fact leads us to the innermost core of the mystery of Christmas. This consists, after all, in the paradox that God’s glory would not be manifested in the triumphal procession of an emperor whose might conquers the world but in the misery of a Child who, ignored by society’s great, is born in a stable.
The helplessness of a child has become the most genuine expression of God’s almighty power, which employs no other force than the quiet might of truth and love. In the unprotected helplessness of a child we were to encounter God’s saving kindness first of all. And indeed: it is so very comforting, amid all the boasting of the worldly powers, to be aware of the quiet serenity of God and thus to experience the assurance of a power that in the end will prove stronger than all other powers and will outlast all the noisy triumphs of the world. What sense of freedom does such knowledge not convey, and what wealth of human kindness does it not contain!
From: Dogma und Verkundigung, pp. 382ff.