December 14, 2010 // Uncategorized

The mystery of Christmas

In the history of humanity, it was never imagined that God would become man. It was beyond anyone’s dreams that God, who is supreme, all-powerful, and eternal would become a newborn baby. Yet, the heart of Christianity is precisely this: the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). When we contemplate this mystery, we cannot help but be filled with wonder and awe. We become like the shepherds and the magi: all we can do is approach the mystery in adoration.

The event of the Incarnation surpasses all human knowledge. Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote: Of all the works of God, this surpasses reason more than any other, since one cannot conceive of God doing anything more wonderful than that true God, the Son of God, should be made true man. We express our reverence for this great mystery when, while reciting the Nicene Creed at Mass, we bow at the words: by the power of the Holy Spirit, he was born of the Virgin Mary and became man. At Christmas Masses, we genuflect when we recite these words.

The greatest scholars of the Church bowed down at the mystery of the Incarnation. They realized that their insights, reflections and writings could not exhaust nor fully explain the awesome truth, the wonder and the drama, of the mystery of Christmas.

The mystery of our redemption began with the Incarnation. The wood of the manger pointed to the wood of the cross. Notice that in Christian art the crib is often shown in relation to the cross. In Byzantine icons of the Nativity, the swaddling clothes resemble the shroud in icons of the resurrection. In icons of the Nativity, the stable is a cave with a black interior that recalls the empty tomb and the jaws of hell. We keep in mind the intimate bond between the mystery of the Incarnation and the Paschal mystery. The famous hymn in Saint Paul’s letter to the Philippians speaks of both these mysteries in the context of humility, the humility of the Incarnation pointing to the humility of the death on the cross. He emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross (Phil 2 7-8).

At Christmas, let us spend some time in prayerful meditation on the infinite magnitude of the gift that God our Father gives us in the Incarnation of his Son. Saint John wrote: For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). In sending his Son, God has opened for us a share in his divine life! Saint Bonaventure wrote: In his generous love, the Father lavished upon us all he was, all he had, all he could.

The radical newness of the Incarnation, its uniqueness in world religions, is a testament to the truth of Christianity. The very idea that God would be conceived in a mother’s womb, that the true and perfect God would become true and perfect man, that God would take the road of infancy and childhood, even become an unborn baby, makes this truth even more astounding. After all, God could have come as an adult, like Adam. The first man was created by God as an adult, but the new man, the new Adam, came as an infant! He chose to be conceived in Mary’s womb and to be nine months inside her body. He came in weakness and in littleness. Pope Saint Leo the Great wrote that He disdained neither birth nor the earliest stages of infancy. He was a real baby. He cried when he was hungry. Though he did not cease being God, God the Son made his own our infant littleness. He became like us in all things but sin.

The Son of God came into the world as an infant, as a little and lowly Messiah, born in poverty and obscurity. His cradle was a manger, a trough where animals ate. When Jesus was presented in the temple, his parents made the offering of the poor. Early on, he was a refugee, whom Mary and Joseph took to Egypt to escape the sword of Herod. One author writes that His material poverty is the outward sign of the metaphysical poverty of the assumed human nature.

There were a lot of legends that circulated through apocryphal gospels about miracles performed by the child Jesus. Saint Thomas Aquinas was very firm in rejecting these stories, insisting that Jesus’ first miracle was at the wedding feast in Cana. Saint Thomas said that if Jesus had worked miracles as a child, men would have thought that his Incarnation was a fantasy. But it was not. Christmas is more than a cute story; it is an awesome and mysterious Truth.

The Incarnation of the Son of God brings hope to our lives. The German philosopher Martin Heidegger described man as “a being towards death.” There is certainly some truth to that. But the Incarnation of the Son of God allows us to describe man as “a being towards eternity.”

Heidegger wrote a lot about the existential anxiety (angst) of the human condition. Christ’s Incarnation allows us to overcome that anxiety and to live in hope. In becoming man, God brings eternity to us. He came that we might have eternal life. Human destiny is changed. Our race is saved from despair. We can live in hope!

I wish all of you a very blessed Christmas. When I give the following blessing at Christmas Midnight Mass, I will offer it for all the people of our diocese:

When he came to us as man, the Son of God scattered the darkness of this world, and filled this holy night with his glory. May the God of infinite goodness scatter the darkness of sin and brighten your hearts with holiness.

God sent his angels to shepherds to herald the great joy of our Savior’s birth. May he fill you with joy and make you heralds of his gospel.

When the Word became man, earth was joined to heaven. May he give you his peace and good will, and fellowship with all the heavenly host.

* * *

The best news. Delivered to your inbox.

Subscribe to our mailing list today.