The night of Christmas Eve had fallen at last, and all that remained was to sleep until Christmas morning. As I slept, I dreamt. It has haunted me since, the terrible nightmare of that night, the very image of death placed before my mind’s eye. Here is something like that vision in sleep:
I looked before me into a dark prison cell, poorly furnished, dimly lit by a torch on the wall. Several people sat there, their clothes torn and ragged. One of them, I noticed, was a priest. He was conversing with those around him.
“Father,” said one young woman sitting on the floor, “do you think it will be long before they come for us?”
“No. They never take long. It has already been some time since they took Nicolas and the others up before that crowd,” he replied.
“Let’s hear more, then, of the good news that might have been. If we are about to die for this lie then let us listen to it, as beautiful and terrible as it is.”
“I cannot say ‘do not despair’, for that would be false hope indeed. You would have me retell our story, our fantasy. This little angelic lie of ours, upon which we have built all our false hope. Before we find ourselves helpless before the judgement seat of God, you want a rehearsal of the lie we plan to tell him. The present sent from God that was more of a bad joke, though one still surpassing all the joys of the world. Alright, one last time, I will present the story.
God did create the world, making it beautiful and good. He then made Man, and from him Woman to dwell in Eden with him. He gave them one command, not to eat of the Fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. One day, the serpent came, tempting them to eat of the tree. This serpent was Satan himself, the first great rebel, who had been the highest of the angels of heaven before he, though seeing as with sight God himself, choose to try to elevate himself above even God, choose to rebel. By this choice of his, evil had entered the world. He used that freedom of will that God had given him as an instrument of Love as an instrument of destruction. And when he entered the garden he taught our first parents to do the same. And so Eve first and then Adam ate of the tree, and the whole human race descended from them has been corrupted by the corrupted will inherited from them. And yet, God promised that from the seed of Eve would arise one who would crush the serpent’s head, a savior for the world.
Several generations later, to preserve the full humanity of the savior who was to come so that he might be human enough to provide salvation for those who were human, God sent a flood upon the earth to remove the attempt by angels to set up a false gospel in their own flesh, to stop the blood of angels from tainting mankind. God preserved the human race, renewing the promise that had been given to Eve of a descendent who would crush the serpent and save us.
Later, to Abraham, he gave the promise that the blessing of the world would arrive through his own progeny. Such was Abraham’s faith upon mount Moriah that he was willing to sacrifice the child through whom this salvation was to be brought when it was commanded by God, knowing by faith that God would fulfill his promise and not require Isaac. God preserved Isaac. How great a trust Abraham had, that he would trust a promise so much that he would even obey the maker of that promise when he was commanded to destroy it.
Later, a promise was made to King David that the long-promised savior would be among his descendants. Thus a line from Jesse was never destroyed, despite the centuries of rebellion against God by the kings of Israel and Judah, despite even the exile to Babylon. One of David’s descendents would be the one to crush the serpent.
In an even later age, it was revealed to a man named Simeon that he would not see death before the long promised salvation would appear. It was the prepared time, immovable, in which God’s promise to our first parents, to Noah, to Abraham, to David, and to Simeon would be brought into the world, or else not at all.
An angel was sent to a woman whose name is now accursed, a descendent of David, to tell her that she was to be the mother of the one who would save the people from their sins. The revelation that has since been revealed to us by the testimony of angels tells us what would have happened. She would have given birth to the child, to be named Jesus, one fully God and fully Man. He would have lived a life without sin, freely choosing by his will to obey God in all he did. The people would have taken him, brought him before the authorities with false accusations, and had him crucified. He would have risen on the third day, bringing salvation to the world, defeating sin and death. He would have given all men a new choice: an offer of salvation that could have brought men before the judgement of God freed from their sin. The Spirit of God would have been sent, to guide the followers of the God-Man into all truth, to bring a visible community through the centuries back to God, with a holy priesthood that would perform a holy meal of remembrance, in which the very Body and Blood of the savior, as present in bread and wine, was to be eaten, bringing salvation to his followers.
This is the great might-have-been in which we place all our hope. It is what God promised from the beginning. We place our trust in the One who might have been, but for her choice.
For the angel came to her, and announced this salvation by which she and the world might be saved. How beautiful and wonderful a thing it would have been had she said “Let these things be.” How wonderful it would have been had she freely willed to share in the divine plan of salvation, as Eve, Noah, Abraham, and David had before her. Then we might all have been happy.
Instead, she rejected it. She cursed the angel, saying ‘May this thing never come to pass, I will do what I will rather than what is willed for me.’ The angel departed, mourning the destruction of the world. She departed from that house, prostituted herself to a Roman soldier, and shortly thereafter was stoned to death when Joseph brought this to the attention of the authorities. O unnamable one, full of damnation, you denied the Lord. Cursed are you among all women, and through you he who would have saved the world was withheld. This is the curse we pray against her constantly.
We are left, given this second great fall, more terrible by infinite magnitudes than the fall of Eve, without the resurrection of the Savior, without which our faith is in vain. We are named the Counterfactualists, for we trust in what might have happened, in the salvation that would have been offered through the savior. Not that there is any real hope, not really. That which has not happened simply has not happened. God was so insistent upon the freedom of the will needed for Love that he has allowed the damnation of the world. We will stand before him, trusting in his promise, despite its failure. And if then we perish, we perish.”
He, concluding his story, began to serve the mass. He took bread and wine, and blessed them. They would have been the Body and Blood of Christ, if Christ had either Body or Blood. He had heard their confessions earlier, offering what would have been a pardon for sin had any sin been pardonable. And then they sat, waiting in silence, for their death.
The guards came, taking them from the cell up into the light of the arena above. There they were tied to crosses, in terrible imitation of what they wished would have happened. The crowd, looking on, laughed at them, shouting “Let your fairy tale save you now, which you yourselves admit to be a lie.” They, upon their crosses, dying slowly, sang a hymn cursing she who had committed the great apostasy. And then at last they gave up their spirits, descending where they must in the absence of a savior.
At this, I awoke, trembling at the horror of the world I had just witnessed. I remembered the truth, rather than the dark nightmare. Mary had indeed said unto the angel “Let these things be.” Christ had been born, and this new day was the very celebration of that affirmation.
For on that day, long ago, in Bethlehem, Christ had been born of the holy Virgin Mary. In fulfillment of the promises of God from the time of the fall of man, it had happened, at the time when God had orchestrated it to happen. He died and rose again, keeping our faith from being in vain. He established his Church, in the power of the Holy Spirit.
But then I remembered the terrible existence of those in hell. Here are those who, despite the reality of the offer of salvation, deny it through the corrupted use of their will, doing to themselves what Mary might have done to the whole human race. Blessed are the Counterfactualists compared with them, for the Counterfactualists’ hope was still in Christ, even though there wasn’t any Christ to have hope in. How terrible is the freedom required for Love, that it can even contradict the desire of God himself that all should be saved.
Christ was born, and all will be well: that was the simple truth of the matter. The truth of salvation, celebrated on this day, was beautiful, more beautiful than anything else in the world. I prayed and sang, celebrating the Amen that had been given to the angel’s proclamation.
“Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee;
Blessed art thou among women,
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
Pray for us sinners
Now and at the hour of our death.