In the beginning was the Word,and the Word was with God,and the Word was God.He was in the beginning with God…And the Word became fleshand made his dwelling among us,and we saw his glory,the glory as of the Father’s only Son,full of grace and truth.—John 1:1-2, 14, The Gospel of the Christmas Mass “During the Day”
The Lord said to me: “You are my son, today I have begotten you.” As unlikely as these words (the Entrance Antiphon for Christmas Mass in the Night) may seem, they are a powerful reminder that there is more to the celebration of Christmas than the birthday of Jesus.
Every Christmas, we celebrate the truth that God became a human. This belief is so essential that to deny it or to try to explain it away is to give up the foundational belief of Christians. This is why Pope St. Leo the Great, one of the greatest preachers about the mystery of the Incarnation, could say, “Dearly beloved, today our Savior is born; let us rejoice. Sadness should have no place on the birthday of life. The fear of death has been swallowed up; life brings us joy with the promise of eternal happiness.”
Our celebrations of the Solemnity of Christmas invites us to pause and reflect on what these words really mean.
It is one thing to simply profess the words “and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary and became man” (from the Nicene Creed). It is quite another to allow these words to effect a change in our lives. As Cardinal Basil Hume observed, “The words are simple and direct, but their meaning is far beyond our power to comprehend.”
It is not flesh and blood that leads us to the truth. It is our Father in heaven who gives us the light to say ‘I do believe’ and with conviction. His touch is gentle. There is no force as he moves us to share his secret thoughts. He, Emmanuel, is God among us, a man to lead us where we truly belong, wrapped in his love for us (The Mystery of the Incarnation, 142).
Although it is something that many of us might take for granted, to say that Jesus is Emmanuel—“God-with-us”—requires a profound and dynamic statement of faith. But it is only faith that allows us, like the shepherds and sages of so many centuries ago, to make our way through the darkness to the manger, even as war, disease, poverty, and the senseless loss of innocent life can make us ask, “Where is God?”
But what we, as people of faith, celebrate at Christmas is the reality that God is here, present among us.
Ultimately, as Henri Nouwen wrote, Christmas means saying “Yes” to something beyond emotions and feelings. It is saying “Yes” to hope and the knowledge that salvation is God’s work, not ours:
The world is not whole … But it is into this broken world that a child is born, who is called Son of the Most High, Prince of Peace, Savor. I look at him and pray, ‘Thank you, Lord, that you came … Your heart is greater than mine’ (The Road to Daybreak).
How can you say ‘Yes’ to the presence of God-With-Us in a new way this Christmas?
How does the celebration renew your sense of faith in God’s transforming love?
What gift can you offer the Christ Child this Christmas season?
Words of Wisdom: “The fullness of time brought with it the fullness of divinity. God’s Son came in the flesh so that mortals could see and recognize God’s kindness. When God reveals his humanity, his goodness cannot possibly remain hidden … The incarnation teaches us how much God cares for us and what he thinks and feels about us … Truly great and manifest are the goodness and humanity of God. He has given us a most wonderful proof of his goodness by adding humanity to his own divine nature.”—St. Bernard of Clairvaux